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Experts Play Down Iranian ICBM Progress

The U.S. Defense Department in a recent public assessment offered little indication of Iranian progress toward development of an ICBM capability, the Arms Control Association said on Thursday (see GSN, July 11).

Based on information in the Pentagon analysis of Iran's armed forces, the nation does not appear to have prioritized the preparation of long-range delivery vehicles over its traditional focus on systems with more limited maximum flight distances, according to the think tank in Washington. While Tehran is tapping its reported technical gains in building short-range and medium-distance weapons, it could exploit the same strides in pursuing ICBMs or other longer-range missiles, the independent organization said (Greg Thielmann, Arms Control Association release, July 11).

The Defense Department's most recent Iranian ICBM development projection is less dire than an estimate issued two years ago, Wired magazine reported on Thursday.

The Pentagon in 2010 predicted Iran by 2015 would be able to build a delivery system “capable of reaching the United States.”

In its latest estimate, though, the department said: “With sufficient foreign assistance, Iran may technically be capable of flight-testing an intercontinental ballistic missile by 2015.” The language rules out any Iranian ICBM milestone beyond an initial trial flight, and it does not suggest a resulting weapon could reach targets beyond Iran's near surroundings, according to Wired.

The perceived requirement of "sufficient foreign assistance" could pose another obstacle for Tehran, the magazine said. North Korea probably provides Iran with delivery system parts on a routine basis, but Pyongyang's own effort to develop and vet extended-distance weapons has been plagued with setbacks, Wired added (Robert Beckhusen, Wired, July 12).

Iran still relies on outside manufacturers for certain critical missile components, the Arms Control Association said, referring to assessments by U.S. intelligence agencies and the U.N. Security Council committee on Iran penalties. Additional factors supporting a longer Iranian ICBM development time line include the rigorous process of vetting such weapons, as well as Tehran's failure to date to conduct launches either of experimental farther-flying missiles or of its Simorgh space rocket, the think tank said (Thielmann, Arms Control Association release).

Meanwhile, Iran's Revolutionary Guard in maneuvers last week demonstrated missiles with higher precision and strengthened launch capacities, the Associated Press on Friday quoted Iranian news organizations as saying (see GSN, July 3). The effort was said to bolster the nation's ability to ward off aggression.

"Our missiles are more accurate and lethal than ever," Iranian lawmaker Ismaeil Kowsari said to AP on Friday. "These achievements send clear signals to the West that Iran is a formidable force, making enemies think twice before making any decision to attack us."

Israel and the United States have both said the use of armed force remains an option in dealing with an Iranian nuclear program suspected of being aimed at producing a nuclear-weapon capability. Tehran says it has not military atomic intentions (see related GSN story, today).

Nine-tenths of the weapons struck their intended destinations, according to Iranian media. The missiles could lift off in rapid succession and a number incorporated solid propellant, AP said (Ali Akbar Dareini, Associated Press/Yahoo!News, July 13).

Note to our Readers

GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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