Of all Iran’s nuclear plants, none is more heavily defended against air attack than Arak.
Satellite imagery shows that three surface-to-air missile sites and at least 50 batteries of anti-aircraft guns protect this research reactor and heavy water production plant. Only one missile battery guards the uranium enrichment facility at Fordow, by contrast.
Arak’s defences are carefully arrayed on the high ground surrounding the facility, with an outer ring of anti-aircraft guns deployed along possible attack routes and an inner circle placed around the installation’s perimeter.
The missile batteries are found on three sides of Arak, with one crowning the highest mountain above the facility.
Arak’s defences have to be strong because this plant is the most vulnerable of Iran’s sensitive nuclear sites. Unlike Fordow, which is buried inside a mountain, and Natanz, the other uranium enrichment plant which is largely underground, the entire complex at Arak appears to be above the surface.
Whether these defences would trouble the air forces of Iran’s most likely adversaries, Israel and the US, is another matter. the anti-aircraft missiles at Arak are obsolete models known as the Shahin.
Under the Shah, America sold Iran Hawk surface-to-air missiles, a 1960s design. Iran’s current rulers inherited this system after the Revolution of 1979. They upgraded the Hawk, modernising its radar guidance system and renaming it the Shahin. But this weapon is decades out of date.
As for the guns, they would be capable of filling the sky above the plant with a hail of lead, making a close range attack extremely perilous. But the Israeli and US air forces would not launch that kind of strike. Both have long range “stand-off” missiles, which would be fired hundreds of miles away from Arak and well beyond the reach of its defences.