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Iran

Missile

Last Updated: July, 2017

The Islamic Republic of Iran has numerous programs for the development of ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, long-range artillery rockets, and space launch vehicles (SLV). It currently possesses the largest number of ballistic missiles of any country in the Middle East. [1]

Iran's ballistic missile program began during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), when Iraq's air superiority prevented Iran from striking it from ranges greater than 150km. In response, Iran acquired the Soviet R-17 (R-300; NATO: Scud-B) from Libya, resulting in the War of the Cities, a campaign of air and missile raids in which both Iran and Iraq targeted each other’s major cities. [2] Since the late 1980s Iran has actively sought to develop an indigenous missile program, relying heavily on missile components imported from North Korea in the 1980s and 1990s to establish this capability. [3] Iran is outside of international regimes to prevent missile proliferation, such as the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). Despite international export control efforts, Iran has managed to continue to utilize a number of foreign suppliers to develop a missile production infrastructure. To date, Iran claims to have developed several liquid-propelled ballistic missiles, two space launch vehicles (SLV) and solid-propelled missiles.


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Capabilities

Iran has a large and increasingly sophisticated ballistic missile program. Much of the program's development has occurred under international economic sanctions related to Iranian WMD pursuits and support of terrorism. Therefore, much remains unknown regarding types of missiles in the Iranian arsenal, these missiles' capabilities and the size of Iran's stockpile.

Missile Table for Iran

Iran's ballistic missile program has developed along two parallel tracks: (1) liquid-propellant engines based on imported Soviet and North Korean missiles; and (2) solid-propellant motors based on solid-propellant rocket artillery.

Liquid-propellant missiles

The most common types of ballistic missiles in the Iranian arsenal are the Shahab-1 and Shahab-2 short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs), which are derived from the Soviet R-17/R-300 (Scud-B) and R-17M (Scud-C), respectively. A longer-range missile, the Shahab-3, is derived from North Korea’s Nodong missile. Iran has the capacity and infrastructure to assemble all of its Shahab missiles. The Shahab-3 is capable of reaching all of Iraq, Afghanistan, and western Saudi Arabia from permanent missile bases in Iran’s interior. The Shahab-3 missiles are road-mobile and are capable of carrying chemical, biological, or nuclear warheads, and can likely reach Israel if emplaced nearer to the western Iranian frontier. [4]

Tehran has extensively modified the Shahab-3 missile to increase its range and accuracy. Since 2004 Iran has conducted several tests of a Shahab-3 variant, the Ghadr-1, a medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) with a range of up to 2,000km. [5] In 2014, the Iranian Defense Ministry claimed the successful flight test of a multiple independent re-entry vehicles (MIRV)-capable ballistic missile, the Barani, but analysts from Jane's Defense dispute this capability on technical grounds. [6] In 2015, Iran test-launched the Emad, a Shahab-3 variant with a more advanced guidance system. [7]

In February 2017, Iran test-fired the Khorramshahr, a medium-range ballistic missile that analysts believe to be a derivative of the North Korean Musudan missile. [8]

Solid-propellant missiles

In addition to its liquid-propellant missile program, Iran is actively pursuing solid-propellant missiles. Solid-propellant missiles offer a number of advantages. Solid propellant has a longer storage life than liquid propellant and is less combustible, thereby reducing worker safety risks and enabling fuel to be stored in the missile. This eliminates the several day fueling process required for liquid-propellant missiles prior to any launch decision, offering a significantly reduced response time and other strategic advantages (e.g., solid-propellant missiles are less likely to be detected by an adversary pre-launch, because of the absence of major preparatory activities). Furthermore, solid-propellant missiles accelerate faster than liquid-propellant missiles and are thus less vulnerable to interception during takeoff.

Since about 2004, Iran has deployed the Fateh-110, a solid-fueled short-range ballistic missile (SRBM). A guided variant of the Fateh-110, the Zolfaghar, was reportedly used against Islamic State targets in the Syrian Civil War in June 2017. [9]

Iran has conducted a number of tests of a longer-range solid-fueled ballistic missile, the Sejjil. First tested in 2007, the Sejjil is an indigenously developed MRBM capable of reaching Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey from deployments deep within Iranian territory. Iran has not tested the Sejjil since 2011. On September 22, 2013, during the annual military parades in Iran, Iranian armed forces showcased several different models of ballistic missiles, including the Sejjil. [10]

Currently, all of Iran's ballistic missiles are road-mobile and deployed on transporter erector launchers (TELs). However, in June 2011 during the "Great Prophet" military exercises, Iranian state television broadcast images of a Shahab-3 in a missile silo and announced the location of silos at the Tabriz and the Imam Ali missile bases. [11] Silos protect missiles from the environment and provide them with a permanent vertical launch position, thereby decreasing launch preparation time. Since these advantages are minimal, Iran's reason for developing silos is likely to prepare for the future deployment of larger missiles, such as an ICBM, which would require a fixed launch site. Fixed launch site silos also offer a degree of secrecy compared with external launch pads, hiding launch preparations from view and potentially decreasing a site's vulnerability to a preemptive strike. In March 2016, Iran launched several missiles from silos across the country, releasing video from both outside and inside the silos, thus demonstrating the country's "deterrence power." [12]

Cruise missiles

In September 2012, Iranian Brigadier General and Director of the Defense Ministry Aerospace Organization Mehdi Farahi announced that Iran has, or is developing, 14 different cruise missiles. [13] Iran's cruise missile program began in 2001 when Tehran imported 12 X-55 (NATO: AS-15 Kent) air-launched cruise missiles (ALCM) from Ukraine. [14] The X-55 is launched exclusively from heavy bombers, which Iran does not possess, making it likely that Iran acquired the missile exclusively for research, design and feasibility studies. In March 2015, Iran revealed a new ground-launched cruise missile known as the Soumar, which reportedly bears a close resemblance to the Russian Kh55SM cruise missile, though no specific design information for this missile is available at this time. [15]

The majority of Tehran's cruise missile arsenal consists of anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs). The Kosar (range = 3-15 km), Nasr (range = 8-35 km), Noor (range=120 km) and Ghadir (range = 200 km) are all short-range subsonic platforms with high explosive warheads, primarily intended for coastal defense (land-to-sea) and ship-to-ship warfare. [16] These missiles are currently deployed along Iran's coast and on various naval ships including frigates, corvettes, coastal and inshore patrol vehicles (such as speedboats), in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. In particular, the Iranian navy announced in April 2014 that both destroyers and missile launching warships have been outfitted with Ghadir cruise missiles. [17]

Iran has one medium-range subsonic ASCM, the Ra'ad, reportedly based on the Chinese HY-2 airframe. [18] The Chinese HY-2 can carry a 500kg warhead, indicating that a similarly designed Ra'ad derivative could hypothetically carry a well-designed nuclear warhead up to a range of 105km. [19] However, the limited range makes such a scenario unlikely. The Ra'ad is deployed for coastal defense on various naval vessels and along the Iranian coast.

Space Program

Iran has an active space development program, which it claims is for civilian purposes. Iran successfully launched five satellites into space using the Safir Space Launch Vehicle (SLV). [20] The Safir is a two-stage rocket. It uses a modified Ghadr-1 for stage-1 and Soviet R-27 Vernier steering engines for stage-2. [21] In April 2016, Iran launched a new and much larger SLV, the Simorgh, although it is unclear if the launch was successful. [22] The Simorgh closely resembles the North Korean Unha-3 rocket. [23] While the liquid-fueled Simorgh can, in theory, reach ICBM ranges, Iranian media reports note it can only accommodate a payload of about 100 kg, and thus is unlikely to contribute to the development of Irans’ long-range missiles. [24]

Whether Iran can or will produce an ICBM remains to be seen. Iran has demonstrated its commitment to such efforts, and its innovation in using available resources to modify existing missiles. What Iran has not shown is an ability to produce more advanced technologies and components, such as higher-energy fuels and guidance systems. As a result, Iran remains dependent on foreign suppliers for missile development and production, an ongoing challenge to the program.

History

The Shah's Rockets: 1977 to 1979

Iran's missile program originated in the late 1970s under Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. Beginning in 1975, the Iranian Defense Industry Organization began developing and testing the Arash 122mm system, a short-range unguided rocket based on the Russian Bm-11. [25] The Shah initiated a massive military modernization program in order to supplant the United Kingdom as the traditional military protector of the Sunni Gulf Monarchies, believing that his alliance with the United States and access to U.S. military technology would allow him to control the Strait of Hormuz and shipping access to the Indian Ocean. [26] Despite the Shah's close relationship with the United States, open source evidence does not suggest that the United States played a significant part in the Shah's missile program.

The Shah relied on Israel for assistance in establishing a missile program. Iran and Israel partnered in a multi-billion dollar project to modify advanced Israeli surface-to-surface missiles for sale to Iran. [27] The project, codenamed "Flower," was one of six "oil for arms" contracts Iran and Israel signed in 1977. [28] Project Flower reportedly aimed to extend the range of an Israeli Gabriel anti-ship missile by replacing American-supplied parts with Israeli-manufactured components, which would have enabled Israel to re-export the missile to Iran without violating American export control laws. [29] To support this project, a team of Iranian experts began construction of a missile assembly facility near Sirjan, in south-central Iran, and a missile test range near Rafsanjan. [30]

Revolution and the War of the Cities: 1979 to 1988

Missile developments under the Shah were short-lived, as the Iranian Revolution significantly changed Iran's international standing. With the Shah's overthrow and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's assumption of power in 1979, Israel canceled all military cooperation with Iran. While Tehran's missile program initially slowed, the Iran-Iraq War forced Iran to import new missile systems.

Iraq's air and missile superiority was a great advantage during the war, enabling Iraq to roll back the progress previously made by Iranian forces in the ground war, ultimately recapturing the strategic Al-Faw peninsula in Iraq. [31] Iran's inability to counterstrike deep within Iraq's territory prompted Iranian officials to import a small number of Scud-B missiles from Libya. Iran used these missiles to target Baghdad, which had previously been outside the range of Iran's artillery. [32] From March 1985 until June 1985, Iran and Iraq engaged in the "War of the Cities," during which each continuously bombed the other's capital with R-17 missiles.

While the Scud-B was militarily insignificant due to its poor accuracy, Tehran perceived the missile as a strategic success given that it enabled Iran to strike deep within Iraqi territory. This led Iran to seek additional Scud-Bs from Libya in the late 1980s. However, the Soviet Union prevented Libya from selling additional missiles, forcing Iran to turn to North Korea. In June 1987, Iran and North Korea concluded a $500 million arms agreement, which included between 90 and 100 Scud-Bs, and North Korean construction of a missile production facility inside Iran. [33] Iran designated the imported Scud-B the "Shahab-1," and first deployed it with the special Khatamol-Anbya force attached to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which successfully attacked a number of Iraqi cities in 1988. [34] Duncan Lennox, editor of Jane's Strategic Weapons Systems, believes that Iran launched 120 Shahab-1 missiles at Iraqi cities between 1987 and 1988. [35]

Post-War Expansion: 1988 to 2002

The Iran-Iraq War demonstrated the inferiority and inadequacy of Iran's military. With poor technology, equipment, and training, the Iranian military relied primarily on undertrained volunteers and human wave attacks to counter Iraqi forces, resulting in between 350,000 and 400,000 Iranian deaths. [36] Following the war, Iranian officials sought to consolidate the defense industry and modernize the military. Iran acquired conventional heavy arms from the Soviet Union but was forced to rely heavily on China and North Korea for missiles and missile components. [37]

Between 1990 and 1991, Iran and North Korea concluded several new agreements involving the Scud-B and Scud-C. While exact numbers are unknown, it is estimated that Iran imported between 100 and 300 Scuds during this time. [38] Iranian military commanders dubbed the Scud-C the Shahab-2. The missile's range was still rather limited, forcing the IRGC to deploy Shahab-2's along the Iranian coast and border, a deployment that made the missiles vulnerable to preemptive attack. [39]

In 1993, Iranian delegations reportedly made six trips to North Korea to discuss ballistic missile cooperation. [40] Iran provided North Korea with a significant amount of money to fund its ballistic missile program in exchange for development and operational training, complete missile systems and infrastructure for missile production. [41] The immediate result of the meetings was the purchase of complete Nodong missiles, which Iran renamed the Shahab-3. The full scale and scope of North Korean-Iranian missile cooperation is unknown.

From 1993 to 1999 Iran sought to increase its missile capacity through cooperative agreements with North Korea, China, Russia, and Syria. While Iran imported complete missile systems and missile kits, a focus was placed on developing indigenous capabilities. North Korea and China, in particular, helped Iran establish missile production and assembly plants. In 1998, President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani stated, "Missile production has truly become a local technology in Iran.... we have reached the level we needed to get to...Iran is today a proper missile producer which does not need any country, not China, not Russia and not others." [42] By 1998, Iran was domestically producing the Shahab-1 and Shahab-2, and by 2003 it was producing the Shahab-3. [43] However, despite Rafsanjani's assertions about indigenous production capabilities, Tehran continued to import critical components from foreign suppliers.

Military Exercises, Space Program, and Solid Fuel: 2006 to the Present

From March 31 to April 6, 2006, Iran conducted the Great Prophet-1 military exercises, testing multiple ballistic and cruise missile systems. The Great Prophet-1 series represented a new kind of testing for Iran, in which missile tests were integrated into conventional land, sea, and air military exercises. Such exercises display how the use of ballistic and cruise missiles can be integrated into defense doctrine and strategy. Since the initial Great Prophet tests, six additional exercises have occurred (November 2006, July 2008, September 2009, April 2010, June 2011 and July 2012). The specific missiles tested and the exact number of tests from each exercise is unknown.

In April 2003, the Iranian Parliament officially established the Iranian Space Agency (ISA), with the goal of launching a satellite into space. In February 2007 Tehran announced the successful launch of a sounding rocket, although the rocket only reached an altitude of 150km. One year later, in February 2008 during the Ten Days of Dawn celebrations, the ISA launched the Kavoshgar-1 sounding rocket. Following the launch, Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said that a satellite would be launched in May or June. [44] The Safir SLV was launched on August 17 without a satellite. The head of the Aerospace Organization Reza Taghizadeh said, "…the firing paved the way for placing the first Iranian satellite in orbit." [45] The Omid satellite was successfully launched in February 2009 to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution, making Iran the ninth country to domestically launch a satellite into space.

In January 2000, Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani announced that Iran was "self-sufficient" in producing solid fuels and was developing a solid-fueled version of the Shahab-3, the Shahab-3D. [46] The announcement reflected a major shift in Iranian missile development away from liquid-propellant engines to solid motors, which subsequently marked a shift away from foreign assistance to more domestic research and development. In May 2005 Shamkhani announced that Iran had successfully completed a static test-firing of the Shahab-3D motor. [47] Then, in November 2007 Defense Minister Mostafa Najjar announced a 2,000km range solid propellant missile, the Ashura. [48] However, no videos or images of the new missile were released until the November 2008 test launch under the new name, Sejjil. From November 2008 to January 2013 Iran tested the Sejjil seven times, with the last test occurring in February 2011. However, Tehran has not publicly declared the missile operational.

Recent Developments and Current Status

Iran's determination to possess a robust and indigenously sustainable missile program is a result of its experience in the Iran-Iraq War, current threat perceptions vis-à-vis states such as Israel, and its unique regime politics. The clerical elite view Iran's asymmetric military assets as the most vital dimension of Tehran's national security policy, and place great importance on indigenous weapons production. [49] Ayatollah Khamenei's push for indigenous missile capabilities is likely rooted in his understanding of the four key tenets of the Islamic Revolution: (1) Justice, (2) Self-Sufficiency, (3) Independence and (4) Islamic Piety, as described by Karim Sadjadpour. [50] According to a 2010 statement, Khamenei believes that technology can insulate Iran from foreign domination and contribute to its economic and political independence. [51]

Iran has steadily ramped up its investment in cruise missile technologies. One core component of Iran's asymmetric military strategy has been the procurement, production and deployment of coastal defense cruise missiles. [52] In the event of any conflict with the United States, Iran would likely use HY-2 cruise missiles to attack American warships in the Persian Gulf and to close the Strait of Hormuz. [53]

Iran's rapidly improving missile capabilities have prompted concern from international actors such as the United Nations, the United States and Iran's regional neighbors. Although the United States lifted sanctions related to Iran's nuclear program after the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in January 2016, sanctions relating to Iran's ballistic missile program remain in place. Additional sanctions have been imposed in response to Iran's 2016 and 2017 missile tests. [54]

On July 29, 2015, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 2231, which supported implementation of the JCPOA. The resolution called on Iran "not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons." [55] The United States, United Kingdom, France, and Germany have claimed that Iran's subsequent ballistic missile tests have been "inconsistent with" and "in defiance of" UNSCR 2231. [56] Tehran claims that its ballistic missile tests do not violate UNSCR 2231 and that it produces missiles to defend its "goals and national interests." [57]

On January 29, 2017, Iran tested a medium-range ballistic missile, the Khorramshahr, near Semnan. [58] The missile exploded upon reentry after 1,010km but it is unclear whether the explosion was intentional or accidental. [59] The test was the first since the election of Donald Trump as the President of the United States. In response to the test, the Trump administration imposed new sanctions on 25 Iranian individuals and companies that allegedly assisted in Iran's ballistic missile program. [60]

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Get the Facts on Iran
  • Negotiated a final Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action for its nuclear program w/ the P5+1 on July 14, 2015
  • Possesses complete uranium fuel cycle capabilities
  • Possesses short- and medium-range ballistic missiles

This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents. Copyright 2017.