This week Russia launched repeated attacks on Kyiv. In one of them, a US-supplied Patriot air defense system was damaged, and a US official told CNN it was likely hit by the Russian barrage on Tuesday morning.
Iran has long and extensive experience with US-made Patriots due to Iranian backing of the Houthis in Yemen, a group that targeted Patriot batteries. During that conflict, reports emerged that Saudi Arabia was running low on interceptors. Iran apparently hoped it could leverage the Houthis to use drones and missiles to see if the Patriot systems could be overwhelmed or if cheap drones could take out their radars.
An air defense system generally consists of some kind of hard-kill interceptor, such as missiles. It may also contain guns or have electronic warfare and other devices. They also contain radar, which uses waves of energy to reflect off targets and can be used to detect an aircraft and then help a missile find or target it.
For years, countries developed ways to suppress enemy air defenses, a mission known as SEAD. This can be done by using systems such as the US used historically, including the AGM-45 Shrike, an anti-radiation missile that targets radar, the waves of which can be detected by SEAD, making air defenses vulnerable.
There are also other ways to destroy stationary air defenses, including by simply locating them and sending missiles or drones. When air defenses are mobile, drones and other means can be used to provide nearly real-time intelligence on their whereabouts.
So, while Ukraine has received a number of Western air-defense systems, Russia likely wants to try to test its missiles against them, such as the air-launched “hypersonic” Kinzhal missile, Kalibr cruise missiles and Iranian-supplied drones.Iran is paying close attention, the same way it pays close attention to Israeli air-defense systems. Israel developed the Iron Dome and first deployed it more than a decade ago. Iron Dome has intercepted thousands of rockets, many designed with Iranian assistance by Islamic Jihad and Hamas.
Israel’s use of David’s Sling
Iran also paid close attention to Israel’s use of David’s Sling, particularly during clashes with Islamic Jihad last week in the Gaza Strip. David’s Sling was jointly developed with the US and Israel’s Rafael, which makes David’s Sling partners with Raytheon. Raytheon makes the Patriot system, currently in use by around 18 countries. David’s Sling uses the Stunner interceptor and the SkyCeptor variant, which can be used with Patriot batteries.
Iran may be interested in Russia’s performance against the Patriots in Kyiv to measure how it can target Israel’s air defenses. Tehran has said it believes Israel’s Iron Dome has been overwhelmed in recent conflicts and has failed on occasion, according to Iranian pro-regime media reports.
The Patriot system may have failed to intercept missiles in Ukraine and was damaged, Iran’s Tasnim News Agency reported. This harmed Raytheon’s stock price, according to Iran.
This shows a keen interest by Tehran in what Russia is doing in Ukraine. At the same time, Ukraine appears sensitive to claims about the Patriot being damaged. According to Howard Altman’s recent article at The Drive, “As Ukraine works to repair a US-made MIM-104 Patriot air defense system damaged during a Russian missile barrage, authorities there are cracking down on social media users who posted imagery of air defense batteries in operation.”
Russia, meanwhile, is continuing its large barrages on Kyiv. According to Rob Lee, overnight between Thursday and Friday, “The Ukrainian Air Force says Russia fired 6 Kalibr, 21 Kh-101/Kh-555, and 2 Iskander missiles (9M728), as well as 2 Shahed/Geran-2 drones and two ISR UAVs overnight. They claim they shot down all but one Kh-101/Kh-555.”The reports of Russia trying to defeat US-supplied air defenses come amid other important moves taking place. A recent report at Axios suggested that the US wants to push for an Israel-Saudi normalization deal. Another Axios report suggested that the US has offered joint training with Israel regarding Iran.
The Alma Research and Education Center has released a new video on an “underground UAV base carved into the mountains around Shiraz [that] threatens the entire Middle East at any given moment.” Another tweet from the organization indicates possible threats near the Golan Heights.
The overall picture is something like this: In 2015, Iran began to help arm the Houthis and encouraged them to try to overwhelm US-supplied Patriot air defenses in Saudi Arabia by attacking the air defenses themselves.
Iran shifted in 2021 to encourage Hamas to try to overwhelm Iron Dome. It began sending kamikaze drones to Russia, which used them against Ukraine in 2022. Now, in May, Russia has tried to destroy US-supplied Patriot air defenses.Last week, Iran tried to overwhelm Iron Dome using Islamic Jihad and watched closely as Israel used David’s Sling to successfully intercept missiles fired from Gaza. Tehran wants to unify the “fronts” of Palestinian and other militia groups to threaten Israel, including the use of long-range drone threats and PGMs (precision-guided munitions).
Iran has already used cruise missiles and drones at Abqaiq in 2019 to penetrate Saudi Arabia’s air defenses. So, Iran and Russia are both keenly interested in defeating US-designed air defenses, and Tehran wants to figure out how to outfox Israel’s air defenses.