Shoigu and Iranian Minister of Defense Mohammed-Reza Gharaei Ashtiani visiting an exhibition displaying some rare and first-time displays of Tehran’s latest weapons systems.
Russia and Iran expanded their defense partnership to an unprecedented level. Interaction between Russia and Iran on issues related to the transfer of modern weapons, especially advanced unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), is continuing. By declaring defense technical cooperation as the bedrock of their bilateral relations while sharing solidarity over facing punishing Western sanctions, Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu’s recent visit to Iran and seeing Tehran’s latest ballistic missile and drones has set the stage for an unprecedented military-technological cooperation.
Shoigu and Iranian Minister of Defense Mohammed-Reza Gharaei Ashtiani visiting an exhibition displaying some rare and first-time displays of Tehran’s latest weapons systems. This included a first-of-its-kind Product 358 anti-aircraft loitering munition, which Iran is believed to have supplied to proxy forces in Yemen and Iraq, but has never previously acknowledged its existence.
Hard details about the 358’s capabilities and its mode of operation remain limited. It is around nine feet long and has a slender cylindrical main body. It has three distinct groups of fins for maneuvering and stabilization in flight. The U.S. military has disclosed in the past that the missile has a satellite navigation-assisted inertial navigation system guidance package, as well as a vertical gyroscope and an air data unit. Many of these components had been previously found on other Iranian drones.
The 358 is understood to be launched from the ground using a solid-fuel rocket booster, which falls away after it burns out. The missile then transitions to an air-breathing propulsion system, possibly a small turbojet, much like a traditional land-attack or anti-ship cruise missile. Air inlets are visible along the body at the rear of the missile, molded into the engine section.
Beyond its core design, past reports have said that the 358 further deviates from typical surface-to-air missiles in that is apparently designed to fly at low speed to a specified location and then loiter there until its fuel runs out. “The weapon flies in a figure-eight pattern and looks for targets,” The New York Times reported in a story citing unnamed U.S. military officials back in 2020.
How exactly the 358 missile spots and tracks its targets is unclear. The 2020 New York Times story said that the weapon sensor ring looked to be designed to help defeat existing countermeasures meant to confront infrared-homing surface-to-air missiles, like directional infrared countermeasures systems and decoy flares, implying that it was, in part, a seeker.
Altogether, the viability of this concept remains an open question. The low speed of the missile already means it is not useful for engaging fast-moving combat jets in many scenarios and is better suited for attempting to intercept slower targets like helicopters and drones. To date, there is no hard evidence of a 358 shooting down anything, despite reports that attempts have been made. A “United States military official said that the 358 missiles from Iran had been fired against American drones flying in Yemeni airspace,” according to the 2020 New York Times report.
When Iraqi authorities seized the 358 near in 2021, they also found a simple launcher. At the IRGC expo that Russian Defense Minister Shoigu recently attended, a pair of 358 missiles were seen on more robust launch rails fitted in the back of a truck, helping to reduce vulnerability, as well as add flexibility.
Whether or not Shoigu’s tour in Tehran indicates the Russian military is in line to receive 358 missiles, whatever their exact capabilities might be, is unknown. For the reasons already noted, this could be a very relevant weapon for Russia, at least in basic concept, for countering Ukraine’s long-range strikes, including those deep inside its territory.
Iran has been a key ally of Russia since the beginning of its all-out invasion of Ukraine last year. Iran has notably supplied large numbers of kamikaze drones, which have become one of the Russian military’s primary tools for striking Ukrainian cities and other critical targets. Iranian authorities have also helped Russia work to establish domestic production of these munitions. There have long been concerns that Iran could provide Russia with valuable stocks of short-range ballistic missiles, as well. Russian authorities have, in turn, moved forward on new arms sales to Iran, including an expected batch of Su-35 Flanker-E fighters, and have pledged further cooperation with their counterparts in Tehran.
“We are aiming at an entire range of planned activities, despite opposition from the United States and its Western allies,” Shoigu said during his current visit to Iran, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency. “Sanctions pressure on Russia and Iran shows its futility, while Russian-Iranian interaction is reaching a new level.”