New Delhi: Amid reports that Israeli F-35 stealth fighter planes managed to hoodwink the S-300 air defence system of Iran and violate its airspace, Russian and Indian defence sources have allayed fears about the S-400 system that India is purchasing, insisting it will be able to detect stealth planes.
According to a report in Kuwaiti daily Al Jarida, Iranian Air Force Commander Brigadier General Farzad Ismaili, who had been in office since 2010, was fired by the country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, after he kept secret that Israeli Air Force F-35 stealth fighters had violated Iran’s airspace.
What happened in Iran?
The Al Jarida report emphasised that it was the original media source that exposed the Israeli raids, which had taken place in March 2018. It cited senior Iranian military officials, who said only following its March report did the intelligence services of the Revolutionary Guards and the Iranian intelligence ministry begin to investigate the case, under Khamenei’s direct orders.
The reports have been closely followed by the defence fraternity and enthusiasts because of Iran’s S-300 air defence system. The report said the system, including its Russian radar, did not detect the entry and exit of the fighter planes, and that Ismaili hid this information from the Supreme Leader to cover his service’s failure.
However, Iranian intelligence discovered that the Israeli fighter jets had carried out this sortie as a test of the possibility of an undetected attack on Iranian outposts and bases, during which they photographed those sensitive bases, evading the Russian S-300 missile system’s radar.
Fears about India’s S-400
Russian sources ThePrint spoke to said they were not aware of the Iran case, but pointed out that India was buying the S-400, which has a completely different radar and system to the S-300, and which can detect the stealth planes.
Indian defence sources also told ThePrint that the S-400 could detect stealth, but did not elaborate to what extent.
The sources said the S-400 had been specifically designed to overcome countermeasures and stealth. It comes equipped with a powerful radar compared to an S-300.
Can S-400 shoot down stealth fighters?
While it is clearly accepted in the defence fraternity that the S-400 can detect stealth planes, questions remain on whether it can actually shoot down such fighters.
Mauro Gilli, senior researcher in military technology and international security at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, said an F-35, for instance, could be detected by the S-400 only when it’s about 40 km away — too late given that the F-35 carries weapons that can strike both aerial and ground targets at a much longer range.
Gilli also raised concerns about the potential sale of F-35s to Turkey, which is also buying the S-400. This has led to a standoff with the US.
He argued that by modulating the frequencies and angles of operations of multiple S-400 systems, one could find the weak spots of the F-35 and, more importantly, its unique radar returns.