Alexander Portnoy

Does Iranian ‘Iron Dome’ speak Zulu?

Iranian unnamed VSHORAD participated in the military exercise ‘Sky Defenders Velayat 1400’. Credit:
Iranian unnamed VSHORAD participated in the military exercise ‘Sky Defenders Velayat 1400’. Credit:

All that glitters is not gold – Often have you heard that told…”,                                             William Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice, Act II Scene 7.

Iran has claimed to have successfully tested its “Integrated Air Defense Network” as part of its military exercise ‘Sky Defenders Velayat 1400’.

Nowadays, “an effective anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) strategy protects anti-access capabilities with area denial threats. In the air, this is often accomplished using an Integrated Air Defense System (IADS) comprised of radars, aircraft, and surface-to-air missile systems.”, said Brig. Gen. Alexus G. Grynkewich, the current Director of Operations, U.S. Central Command. This allows for a net-centric approach in which information can be shared effectively between multiple military entities.

Iranian Army AD Force, IRGC Air Force including IRGC’s ADF, and the Aerospace Force were involved in this recent decentralized air defense drill to approve IADS interoperability between different units.

Iranian Air Defense Systems. Credit:

Two new home-made Very Short-Range Air Defense (VSHORAD) were unveiled during this drill. The AD-08 “Majid” which utilized new design of Azarakhsh air-to-air missile believed to be reverse engineered from the American AIM-9 Sidewinder missile. For detecting and targeting the hostiles, it got the privilege of a combination of electro-optical module (probably Seraj) and radar Kashef-99 with a range of 30 km and could hit targets in a range of 8 km. Another unnamed VSHORAD unmentioned among the known Iranian AD systems shown above was involved too. This VSHORAD, likely named Khatam, aroused great interest in foreign media, which hastened to equate it with Israeli “Iron Dome”.

But, in fact, these two different VSHORAD’s have nothing in common except the slightly similar form of the implemented modular multi-missile launch canisters. Iranian VSHORAD utilizes the formation of Transporter Erector Launcher and Radar (TELAR) which is a result of the deployment of radar on the launcher vehicle. According to the Iranian Tasmin News report, this ensures the maximum compression of system components. But this technical approach makes it a challenge for the adversaries to disrupt the radar with Electronic Warfare (EW) measures combined with Anti-Radiation (AR) missiles.

Unnamed VSHORAD participated in the military exercise ‘Sky Defenders Velayat 1400’. Credit:
Israeli Iron Dome concept.                                        Credit: BBC.
South African Umkhonto SAM.                            Credit: Denel Dynamics





Someone can suppose, the demonstrated VSHORAD has more in common with Umkhonto (Spear in Zulu) ground-based launcher (GBL) developed by Denel Dynamics primarily for the South African Army’s ground-based air defense system (GBADS) requirement.

For the first time, GBL Umkhonto, which development initially began for naval needs in 1993, was exhibited at the Africa Aerospace & Defense 2010 exhibition in Cape Town, being finally tested in 2016.

In a bizarre deal decades ago, the South African telecommunications company MTN Group secured a lucrative multi-billion telecommunications deal in Iran in exchange for various technologies that Tehran apparently requested. Among these requests, helicopter tech, support for Iran’s nuclear program — and drone technology.

As s a result, perhaps also the latest iteration of Iran’s Ababil looks much different than its predecessor generations. Though it still uses a pusher configuration, the “Ababil 3” is strikingly similar to South African Denel Seeker — which it may, in fact, be, either a reverse-engineered copy or simply straight-up rebadged.

In March 2017, South Africa was hoping to sell some R1.5 billion worth of weapons to Iran, including Umkhonto surface-to-air missiles (SAM). This is according to an article published in Rapport, which says South Africa has requested permission from the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to sell Iran the weapons.

The Denel Dynamics Umkhonto-IR Block2 surface-to-air missile was originally developed with a 12 km range but this was increased to 15 km and Denel has demonstrated it can reach out to 20 km, with a ceiling of 8 000 meters. It reaches speeds of around Mach 2.5. In 2013, Denel Dynamics for the first time fired the weapon from land – the system was originally developed for naval applications.

The Umkhonto missile is paired with a radar which is used to detect and track specific targets for the missile to engage. Contrary to the sophisticated Iron Dome’s Tamir/SkyHunter interceptor, the old-fashioned Umkhonto-IR SAM being a semi-active radar homing (SARH) missile travels towards the target based on the radar’s information. But when in the terminal stage, the Umkhonto switches to its IR seeker, and engage the target based on the target’s IR signature.

The extended-range Umkhonto-IR – it is designated in 2016 as the Umkhonto-EIR. The Umkhonto-EIR is slotted to have a maximum range of 25-35 km, positioning it as a short-to-medium range SAM.

In September 2016, Denel Dynamics partnered with Saab, a defense and security solutions provider headquartered in Sweden, to integrate the passive phased-array radar (PESA) Giraffe AMB (Agile Multi-Beam) surveillance radar as well as CEROS 200 radar/electro-optical fire control with Umkhonto SAM systems.

Due to several reasons and having in mind the fact that the Iranian “modern home-made” AD weaponry is mostly a copies of Chinese clones mainly Russian AD systems, Iran likely replaced both Swedish surveillance and fire-control radars with Iranian home-made clones made with foreign aid.

However, in an internal memo to Denel Land Systems (DLS) employees dated 25 October, 2021, Interim CEO Phaladi Petje told staff that the company was unable to collect enough cash to be able to pay any amount towards salaries. As with many other Denel divisions, staff at Denel Land Systems have not been paid for much of the past year.

“DLS has orders, ready to be executed and invoiced,” Petje told staff. “We urge all employees who can, to avail themselves and help as much as possible with the execution of available orders so we can invoice to generate cash…The reality is that without project execution, existing orders cannot be delivered and thus no invoicing is possible to ensure the future and continued existence of DLS.”

It seems, the Denel’s employees initiated cooperation with IRGC without waiting for the getting permission from the United Nations Security Council to sell their SAM’s as well as the relevant Know-How to Iran.

About the Author
Alexander Portnoy holds an MSc EE degree being an internationally experienced (40+) expert in Military and Mission Critical sectors as well as currently is an OSINT Analyst in Geopolitical and Military affairs focusing on Russia and China including their participation in the Great Power Competition in the Middle East as well as advising the Israeli Intelligence Community, Knesset Lawmakers and War Reporters.
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