Iran, Missiles, and Nuclear Weapons
December 9, 2015
It is far from clear why Iran is now sending such strong signals about new developments in its missile program at this point in time. It seemed during much of the negotiations over the nuclear deal and the JCPOA that Iran might be deliberately avoiding tests and activities that might call attention to any obvious fact: there is no meaningful difference between a missile that can deliver conventional munitions and one that can deliver nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. As long as the missile booster can launch a heavy enough payload to get the desired range, any missile can carry a nuclear warhead.
It is possible, that hardliners in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and other parts of Iran’s power structure are “acting out” in opposition to the JCPOA and/or asserting Iran’s capabilities to show it will not halt Iran’s steady development of its asymmetric warfare capabilities. It is also possible that Iran’s leaders have a broad interest in showing their neighbors and the world that Iran is still becoming a steadily more important military power – both in terms of its ability to pose a threat and to deter.
More generally, it is equally important to remember that that the United States, Britain, France, and most of Iran’s Arab neighbors have a massive qualitative and quantitative advantage over Iran in conventional air power. Most of Iran’s combat aircraft and surface-to-air missiles date back to the time of the Shah or are relatively low quality export versions of Russian and Chinese weapons. Missiles are a key “equalizer” for Iran in shaping the regional military balance.
It is also important to remember that the original UN prohibition on Iran’s missile developments in 2010 was so broad that it included virtually any meaningful medium to long-range ballistic missile or space activity – to the point where missile redeployments or routine modernization and maintenance might be seen as violations, and these limits will be eased once the JCPOA goes into force.
Iran, Missiles, and Nuclear Weapons
In practice, Iran is revealing a fact that was inherent in the JCPOA nuclear agreement negotiations, and was openly revealed during their course. It was clear that the United States tried to put limits on Iran’s missile activities in the JCPOA and Iran refused. As a result, the United States and other members of the JCPOA chose to focus on an agreement that clearly forbade Iran from actually deploying a nuclear warhead, from getting the design and manufacturing capability to produce any nuclear weapon, and inspection provisions and controls on procurement that would prevent Iran – or at least limit it – from getting a reliable warhead.
Iran never accepted the limits placed upon its missile programs by earlier UN resolutions like UNSC 1929. Iran did make it clear in accepting the JCPOA that it would proceed with its ballistic and nuclear missile developments and deployments regardless of the UN, and other interpretations of UNSC 2231, and there has not been any meaningful prospect that it will not continue to steadily improve its missile forces and ability to strike at long ranges.
This is why the UNSC resolution passed on July 15, 2015 was less binding, and only called for Iran “not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology” for eight years following the JCPOA agreement and a favorable IAEA report on the possible military dimensions of Iran’s programs.
Iran’s Current Range of Tests and High Range-Payload Missiles
What does count, however, are Iran’s future actions, and Iran has recently conducted a number of missile tests that will enhance its future capability to use missiles to deliver a nuclear weapon, as well as the fact Iran already has a range of missiles that can deliver any half-way efficient fission implosion weapon.
The Ghadir-110 and Other Recent Tests
The new Iranian test of a Ghadr-110, an upgrade version of the Shahab-3 missile, seems to have been held on November 21st near Chabahar, a port near Iran’s border with Pakistan. The real-world performance capabilities of the Ghadr/Ghadir and Shahab-3 cannot be determined from unclassified data and the range is determined by the exact weight of the warhead and cannot be determined from any unclassified range report based on a nominal “guesstimate” of warhead weight.
There seems to be little doubt, however, that the Ghadir-110, however, is a liquid-fueled missile with potential nuclear nuclear delivery capability. The Ghadir-110’s maximum range is sometimes “guestimated” at around 1,700-1,950 kilometers with a nominal 800-kilogram warhead.
The Ghadir is also only one of Iran’s recent missile activities. On October 10, 2015, Iran televised the launch of another ballistic missile called the Emad, that Iran’s Minister of Defense, Hossein Dehghan, said was, “able to strike targets with a high level of precision and completely destroy them…the first long-range missile of the Islamic Republic of Iran that can be controlled until the very moment it hits the target." Other claims indicated that it had anti-missile missile countermeasures.
It is far from clear that the Emad has the level of accuracy claimed, that Iran has a functioning maneuvering reentry vehicle (MARV), or how many of its other reported specifications Some reports indicate it has a 1,760 kilometer range with a 750 kilogram payload but its real world range may be around 1,000 kilometers or less. It still, however, is one more potential nuclear delivery system, and its range will be dependent on how small a nuclear weapon that Iran can create.
At the same time, Iran has also made major efforts to improve the accuracy of its shorter-range missiles, and retrofits improved guidance to older systems like its Fateh 110 and versions with built-in guidance like the Fateh 110-D1. On August 22, 2015, Iran also announced a new version of the Fateh called the Fatheh-313 which it claimed was more accurate and increased the Fateh’s range from 200 kilometers to 500 kilometers. The test of the Emad may, therefore, be more of a sign that Iran is focusing on deploying the kind of conventionally armed precision guided missiles that can be lethal against point military and infrastructure targets than that it is going nuclear.
The key problem in enforcing the JCPOA and judging this aspect of Iran’s missile programs is that only fully reliable technical intelligence on the specific payload actually deployed can reveal what the Ghadir, Emad, or any similar ballistic missile, is carrying. In most cases, the same outside warhead shape can be used for nuclear and conventional warheads, and Iran has already shown it deploys missiles with different and evolving warhead shapes. Moreover, Iran increasingly is deploying ballistic missiles with warheads that separate from the body, and this means warheads can be covertly swapped with minimum risk of detection.
Iran’s Cruise Missiles and UAVs
The same basic uncertainties apply to Iran’s cruise missiles, which have the added advantage that a low, slow flier is a far more efficient way to disseminate a biological and chemical payload than a ballistic missile, a nuclear armed cruise missile is even harder to detect and target than a mobile ballistic missile, and a combined cruise and ballistic missile nuclear threat both greatly complicates missile defense and any form of preventive/preemptive strike on Iran’s missile forces.
Iran has already shown it has cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that could carry a nuclear weapon moderate distances, although the data on such systems are even more uncertain than for ballistic missiles.
Iran has also had ample opportunity to develop long-range. Nuclear-armed missiles. Ukrainian officials revealed in 2005 that Iran had made illegal purchases of 12 Kh-55 Soviet cruise missiles in 2001, and China had bought six. These were very long-range missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads, although the missiles Iran and China acquired did not have nuclear warheads.
In March 2015, Iran displayed a cruise missile called the Soumar that appeared very similar to the KH-55. It is far from clear that Iran has the technology to achieve motors with the same ranges, even through reverse engineering, or the ability to achieve the same low warhead weights. Nevertheless, the Iranian press briefings on the missile indicate that it had a similar range of 2,500 kilometers. Iran also has a new long-range anti-ship cruise missile with the same name as the Ghadir that shows both its progress in this area and has some potential to be nuclear armed.
Iran’s Existing Nuclear Capable Missiles
Iran also has a number of missiles that are already deployed or under advanced development that can almost certainly carry nuclear weapons. Its Shahab-3 and a range of variants has a maximum range “guestimated” at around 1,300 to 2,500 kilometers with a nominal 800-1,200 kilogram warhead. Iran has a solid fuel missile under development that is usually called the Seiji, and whose maximum range is “guestimated” at around 2,000 kilometers – although with an extraordinarily uncertain range of nominal 500-1,500 kilogram warheads.
Its proven and deployed shorter-range systems include the Shahab 1 (maximum range “guestimated” at around 385 kilometers with a nominal 985 kilogram warhead) and Shahab 2 (maximum range “guestimated” at around 500 kilometers with a nominal 775 kilogram warhead). It should be stressed, however, that actual range will be determined by the actual warhead, and differences of even 20-40 kilograms in warhead weight have a significant impact on actual range.
All these uncertainties aside, one thing is clear. Regardless of whether these missiles carry conventional warheads for years to come, they can be quickly adapted to carry a nuclear warhead once Iran is confident in its nuclear weapons designs. Moreover, the UN never addressed cruise missiles, and Iran is developing cruise missiles that can potentially deliver nuclear weapons over a substantial distance.
Other Trends in Longer Range Systems
Iran has other developments underway which need careful consideration. Iran is developing a space program whose boosters can potentially deliver missiles much longer ranges, and Iran is reported to be developing a Shahab 4 with maximum range that is sometimes “guestimated” at around 2,000-4,000 kilometers.
U.S. intelligence is reporting that Iran may be developing an ICBM – although James R. Clapper, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence did not repeat past statements that Iran might have such efforts underway, and gave a much more qualified assessment of Iran in his annual global threat assessment on February 26, 2015:
We continue to assess that Iran’s overarching strategic goals of enhancing its security, prestige, and regional influence have led it to pursue capabilities to meet its civilian goals and give it the ability to build missile-deliverable nuclear weapons, if it chooses to do so. We do not know whether Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons
We also continue to assess that Iran does not face any insurmountable technical barriers to producing a nuclear weapon, making Iran’s political will the central issue. However, Iranian implementation of the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) has at least temporarily inhibited further progress in its uranium enrichment and plutonium production capabilities and effectively eliminated Iran’s stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium. The agreement has also enhanced the transparency of Iran’s nuclear activities, mainly through improved International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access and earlier warning of any effort to make material for nuclear weapons using its safeguarded facilities.
We judge that Tehran would choose ballistic missiles as its preferred method of delivering nuclear weapons, if it builds them. Iran’s ballistic missiles are inherently capable of delivering WMD, and Tehran already has the largest Inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East. Iran’s progress on space launch vehicles — along with its desire to deter the United States and its allies, provides Tehran with the means and motivation to develop longer- range missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
…The Islamic Republic of Iran is an ongoing threat to US national interests because of its support to the Asad regime in Syria, promulgation of anti-Israeli policies, development of advanced military capabilities, and pursuit of its nuclear program.
President Ruhani—a longstanding member of the regime establishment—will not depart from Iran’s national security objectives of protecting the regime and enhancing Iranian influence abroad, even while attempting different approaches to achieve these goals. He requires Supreme Leader Khamenei’s support to continue engagement with the West, moderate foreign policy, and ease social restrictions within Iran.
Iran possesses a substantial inventory of theater ballistic missiles capable of reaching as far as some areas of southeastern Europe. Tehran is developing increasingly sophisticated missiles and improving the range and accuracy of its other missile systems. Iran is also acquiring advanced naval and aerospace capabilities, including naval mines, small but capable submarines, coastal defense cruise missile batteries, attack craft, anti-ship missiles, and armed unmanned aerial vehicles. ( http://www.dni.gov/files/documents/Unclassified_2015_ATA_SFR_SASC_FINAL.pdf .)
Moreover, U.S. Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter, testified to Congress in July 2015 that this was only a possibility and that, ““I wouldn’t rule out that in 10 years, Iran could progress to an ICBM.” Admiral William Gortney, chief of Northern Command, answered a question for the record from a March 19 congressional hearing by saying, “Iran will not be able to deploy an operational ICBM until later this decade at the earliest.” (see Greg Thielman, “It’s Official: There Will Be No Iranian ICBM in 2015, ”The National Interest, November 25, 2015, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/its-official-there-will-be-no-iranian-icbm-2015-14424 .)
What Kind of Missile Does it Take to Deliver a Nuclear Warhead?
There is no clear basis for assessing the size and weight of a warhead with a nuclear weapon, but it takes roughly 300 kilograms of high explosive warhead to have moderate effectiveness against a point targets in a missile with excellent accuracy and reliability. It takes closer to 1,000 kilograms of high explosive to produce a significant effect as more than a terror weapon against even an area target given the limited reliability and accuracy of most of Iran’s current ballistic missiles.
As is discussed shortly, there is no current way to predict how small a nuclear warhead Iran could develop or take the risk of deploying – particularly without an actual fissile test of the nuclear weapon it carried and extensive tests of the warhead capability. Nuclear missile warheads have been under development for a long, long time, however, it seems likely that Iran will have picked up a considerable amount of design data from other countries.
The unclassified history of U.S. nuclear weapons designs shows that modern designs can be very light –although Iran would probably want a much more robust and reliable design than the most advanced warheads. A summary chronology is available at http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/Usa/Weapons/Allbombs.html. This chronology does have significant uncertainty in terms of the precise numbers involved, but the broad patterns it reveals are almost certainly accurate and make it clear that virtually all Iranian ballistic missiles – as well as many of the cruise missile and UAV designs it clams to have under development, have the range-payload to carry a nuclear weapon.
It indicates that the United States first experimented with early fission missile warhead designs weighing as much as 2,700 kilograms. However, this was in the late 1940s and the first years of the 1950s.
The earliest functional U.S. tactical nuclear warheads – for systems like the Regulus and Matador in the early 1950s – only weighed around 1,200 kilograms and this was back in the early 1950s. By the mid-1950s, warhead designs -- for Talos -- were down to around 420 kilograms, the United States was deploying nuclear artillery shells with “warhead” weights of around 390 kilograms. Thermonuclear warheads remained much heavier, but even two-megaton warheads were down to around 1,270 kilograms by the 1960s.
By the early to mid-1960s, even variable yield boosted fission warheads were down to 200-225 kilograms, and the United States was experimenting with a nuclear warhead for the Hawk and GAR-8 air defense missiles with weights of only 34 to 40 kilograms. The United States was deploying variable warheads for MADM and Little John of 69 to 160 kilograms. The Honest John warhead weighed around 428 kilograms and the Pershing only 185 kilograms. By the late 1960s, even MRV 200 kiloton weapons were down to 120 kilograms each, and 1 megaton Minuteman RVs were down to 250 kilograms.
By the late 1980s and early 1990s – when U.S. tactical missile programs ended – warhead weights were down to 175 kilograms for the GLCM and 400 kilograms for the complex Pershing II. Artillery shell designs were down to 43 kilograms.
Even allowing for all of the uncertainties in both these U.S. numbers and the complete lack of any specifics on how far Iran has gotten in weapons design and its access to the designs of other countries, it seems likely that Iran could covertly get to the 300 kilogram level of warhead design over the next five to eight years, and have reasonable confidence in a 1,000 kilogram design. Any actual underground test would probably allow Iran to have reasonable confidence in a significantly lower weight design.
It should be stressed, however, that these estimates are not based on any knowledge of how well Iran has done in reducing the overall weight of reentry vehicles, the additional weight of guidance packages, ensuring warhead stability and reliability, adding any safety or fail-safe design features, issues with warhead separation, and a host of other real-world issues.
What the IAEA Report on Possible Military Dimensions Actually Indicates About Iran’s Nuclear Progress and Warheads
It is equally important to understand that the latest reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency may be framed in the cautious, objective, and tactful terms that are necessary in international organizations – but indicate Iran had an active nuclear program through at least 2009, and that its top officials – including its Supreme Leader – have consistently lied about this.
The IAEA’s Board of Governors issued its report on its Final Assessment on Past and Present Outstanding Issues regarding Iran’s Nuclear Programme (GOV/2015/68) on December 2, 2015. This report builds on its earlier Director General’s report of November 2011 (GOV/2011/65) and is by far the most authoritative document to date on Iran’s efforts.
If one looks at the actual wording of key portions of the report – rather than short outside summaries many of which skip over key details -- it provides a clear warning that Iran was deeply committed to a nuclear weapons program and that the best the IAEA can do is to say it has no evidence it has pursued the program since 2009 - and cannot determine whether some covert efforts continue.
The following excerpts are quotes from the report. The titles for each section are added to help explain their role in nuclear weapons design and production:
2. From 2002 onwards, the Agency became increasingly concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear related activities involving military related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile. Reports by the Director General identified outstanding issues related to possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme and the actions required of Iran to resolve these. The 2011 Annex provided a detailed analysis of the information then available to the Agency. The information indicated that Iran had carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device. The information also indicated that prior to the end of 2003, these activities took place under a structured programme, and that some activities may still have been ongoing.
Creating and Maintain an Active Nuclear Weapons Program
22. Information available to the Agency prior to November 2011 indicated that Iran had arranged, via a number of different and evolving management structures, for activities to be undertaken in support of a possible military dimension to its nuclear programme. According to this information, the organizational structures covered most of the areas of activity relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.
The information indicated that activities commenced in the late 1980s within Departments of the Physics Research Centre (PHRC) and later, under the leadership of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, became focused in the early 2000s within projects in the AMAD Plan, allegedly managed through the ‘Orchid Office’. Information indicated that activities under the AMAD Plan were brought to a halt in late 2003 and that the work was fully recorded, equipment and work places were either cleaned or disposed of so that there would be little to identify the sensitive nature of the work that had been undertaken. Eventually, according to the information, a new organization known as the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research was established by Mohsen Fakhrizadeh and based at the Mojdeh Site near Malek Ashtar University in Tehran.
23. In Iran’s submission of 15 August 2015 under the Road-map, Iran provided the Agency with information concerning a number of organizations described in the 2011 Annex and on their relation and functions. In this regard, Iran, inter alia, denied the existence of a coordinated programme aimed at the development of a nuclear explosive device, and specifically denied the existence of the AMAD Plan and the ‘Orchid Office’ as elements of such a programme.
24. The Agency assesses that, before the end of 2003, an organizational structure was in place in Iran suitable for the coordination of a range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device. Although some activities took place after 2003, they were not part of a coordinated effort.
26. The Agency also had indications of instances of procurements and attempted procurements of items with relevance, inter alia, to the development of a nuclear explosive device. The Agency does not have information regarding any such procurement attempts after 2007.
27. During discussions with the Agency on 16 September 2015 under the Road-map, Iran confirmed its earlier statements that although, as identified by the Agency, it had made a procurement enquiry about a specific high speed camera, the camera had been for a conventional purpose and, ultimately, Iran had not purchased it. During these discussions, Iran also reiterated its earlier denial that a named company had attempted to acquire high-speed switches…. The Agency has not received additional information on this topic since the 2011 Annex.
Obtaining Nuclear Weapons Design Data and a 15 Page Document
29. Information available to the Agency prior to November 2011 indicated that, in the early 1990s, Iran may have received design information for a nuclear explosive device from a clandestine nuclear supply network. Iran provided the Agency with a copy of a one-page handwritten document said to be an offer from this nuclear supply network relating to centrifuge enrichment technology. During discussions with Iran in 2005, the Agency identified a 15-page document relating to the conversion of uranium compounds into uranium metal (‘uranium metal document’) and the production of hemispherical enriched uranium metallic components.
33. Information available to the Agency prior to November 2011 also indicated that Iran had made progress with preparatory work aimed at developing a chemical process to reduce a uranium fluoride compound (UF4) to uranium metal, using lead oxide as a surrogate material. Additionally, information indicated that Iran conducted preparatory work, not involving nuclear material, for the fabrication of uranium components for a nuclear explosive device. During discussions in September 2015 under the Road-map, Iran informed the Agency that it had not conducted metallurgical work specifically designed for nuclear devices, and was not willing to discuss any similar activities that did not have such an application.
Developing and Testing the High Explosive Lenses and Trigger Devices
36. The development of safe, fast-acting detonators, and equipment suitable for firing the detonators, is an integral part of a programme to develop an implosion-type nuclear explosive device. Prior to November 2011, the Agency had information indicating that Iran, in 2002-2003, developed exploding bridgewire (EBW) detonators and a high voltage firing capability which, in combination, enabled several detonators to be fired with less than microsecond simultaneity.
37. During meetings in 2014 under the Framework for Cooperation, Iran provided information to the Agency which indicated that, in December 2000, Iran’s Ministry of Defence decided to improve safety requirements for certain operations involving conventional explosives by developing safer detonators. Iran stated that preliminary work on EBW detonators was undertaken by an industrial group connected to the Ministry of Defence, after which, in 2002, it started further work which culminated in the successful development of EBW detonators. Iran showed the Agency a video of experimental activities being carried out, which Iran stated were linked to its aerospace industry. The Agency notes that Iran has not provided an explanation for the activities the information indicates that it undertook during 2000-2003.
38. Iran stated that the rationale for developing EBW detonators was to help prevent explosive accidents and, during the meeting under the Framework for Cooperation on 20 May 2014, provided the Agency with a list of five such accidents. The Agency determined this information to be inconsistent with the timeframe and unrelated to the detonator development programme. At the meeting under the Road-map on 15 October 2015, Iran provided the Agency with a table listing another six accidents. The Agency notes that, although each of these was stated to have occurred in the correct timeframe and to have related to explosive accidents, at least one did not appear to be related to a detonator.
39. In the same meeting of 20 May 2014, Iran further informed the Agency that, around 2007, its oil and gas industry had identified a requirement for EBW detonators for the development of deep borehole severing devices. To support this claim, Iran presented information to the Agency, including the results of a limited number of tests in which detonators were fired with sub-microsecond simultaneity. Iran informed the Agency that in 2008, owing to concern over the interest expressed by the Agency in Iran’s development of EBW detonators, the oil and gas industry’s requirement was suspended. Work on single EBW detonators for applications in the oil and gas industry commenced in 2013. As previously reported by the Agency, such an application is not inconsistent with specialized industry practices.
40. The Agency assesses that EBW detonators developed by Iran have characteristics relevant to a nuclear explosive device. The Agency acknowledges that there is a growing use of EBW detonators for civilian and conventional military purposes.
41. Prior to November 2011, Member States provided the Agency with information that Iran had available to it design information on the explosives technology known as multipoint initiation (MPI). and that it had used this for the initiation of high explosives in hemispherical geometry. The information indicated that Iran had developed of a hemispherical MPI system and conducted at least one large scale experiment in 2003, details of which were technically consistent, both internally and with publications authored by a certain ‘foreign expert’. The Agency has reassessed that this experiment was conducted at a location called “Marivan”, and not conducted in “the region of” Marivan.
42. After November 2011, the Agency received additional information from Member States regarding the conduct by Iran, in the early 2000s, of small scale experiments aimed at validating the initiation of high explosives, associated instrumentation, and the implementation of safety standards at various test locations in Iran.
43. Information available to the Agency in 2011 also indicated that Iran could have benefitted from the aforementioned foreign expert, who had knowledge of both MPI technology and experimental diagnostics and had worked for much of his career in the nuclear weapon programme in his country of origin. The foreign expert’s presence in Iran in the period 1996-2001 has been confirmed by Iran, although it stated that his activities were related to the production of nanodiamonds.
44. In Iran’s submission of 15 August 2015 under the Road-map, and during further discussions in September 2015, Iran informed the Agency that it had had a technical requirement for the development of MPI technology relating to a conventional military application stemming from the mid-1990s, and that ‘operationalization’ of the project had begun in 2007. Iran’s submission showed how the concept of the ring wave generator was derived from the design featured in information Iran had provided to the Agency in 2008, and was apparently developed to optimise the performance of conventional munitions. During the technical-expert meeting on 30 September 2015, Iran showed the Agency examples of the ring wave generator, including several that had been filled with explosives and fired. Iran stated that the testing had been of an empirical nature to determine the performance of the explosive system. Consequently, Iran stated that it had not defined a specification for the functioning of the ring wave generator and had undertaken only limited diagnostic measurements.
45. In addition to the information indicating that Iran had worked with MPI technology in planar geometry, in the discussions of 30 September 2015, Iran indicated that it had investigated MPI technology in a cylindrical geometry for an unspecified conventional military purpose. Iran also reiterated that no work had been conducted with MPI technology in (hemi) spherical geometry.
Creating a Site at Parchin for Testing the High Explosive Lenses Necessary to Set Off the Fissile Core
46. The Agency assesses that the MPI technology developed by Iran has characteristics relevant to a nuclear explosive device, as well as to a small number of alternative applications. As previously reported,37 in relation to hydrodynamic testing, the Agency received from Member States information, including satellite imagery, which indicated that Iran made and installed a large cylinder at the Parchin military complex in 2000. Other information indicated that this cylinder matched the parameters of an explosives firing chamber (chamber) featured in publications of the foreign expert and was designed to contain the effects of detonating up to 70 kg of high explosives (a quantity suitable for conducting hydrodynamic experiments with high explosives). The information indicated that Iran had first installed the chamber and then constructed a building around it, and that this building (the main building of interest to the Agency) was in use until late 2003.
49. After November 2011, the Agency received additional information from Member States regarding the equipment located at the Parchin site and commercially acquired numerous satellite images of the site.
50. The Agency asked Iran to clarify its activities relating to scientifically monitored explosive research capabilities which were the basis for certain of the Agency’s concerns in the 2011 Annex. Iran did not provide any clarification.
51. Since the Agency’s first request to Iran for access to the particular location of interest to it at the Parchin site in February 2012, extensive activities have taken place at this location. These activities, observed through commercial satellite imagery, appeared to show, inter alia, shrouding of the main building, the removal/replacement or refurbishment of its external wall structures, removal and replacement of part of the roof, and large amounts of liquid run-off emanating from the building.
Commercial satellite imagery also showed that five other buildings or structures at the location were demolished in this period and that significant ground scraping and landscaping were undertaken over an extensive area at and around the location.
52. Under the Road-map, the Agency and Iran agreed on an arrangement regarding the issue of Parchin. This arrangement involved visual observation and environmental sampling at the location of interest to the Agency. These activities were completed on 20 September 2015. To confirm the authenticity of the activities and samples, the Agency ensured that the samples were taken at the
location of interest and maintained the chain of custody for the samples in line with the Agency’s established safeguards practices.
53. When the Director General and Deputy Director General for Safeguards39 visited the main building of interest to the Agency at the Parchin site on 20 September 2015, they did not observe a chamber or any associated equipment inside the building. They did observe, inter alia, recent signs of internal refurbishment, a floor with an unusual cross-section and a ventilation system which appeared incomplete.
54. Iran stated during discussions at technical-expert meetings under the Road-map that the building had always been used for the storage of chemical material for the production of explosives.
57. The information available to the Agency, including the results of the sampling analysis and the satellite imagery, does not support Iran’s statements on the purpose of the building. As a result of activities implemented under the Road-map, the Agency has established that, as of 20 September 2015, the cylinder was not in the main building of interest. The Agency assesses that the extensive activities undertaken by Iran since February 2012 at the particular location of interest to the Agency seriously undermined the Agency’s ability to conduct effective verification.
Hydrodynamic Calculations to Build a Nuclear Weapon
58. By November 2011, the Agency had received information from Member States indicating that, prior to 2004 and between 2005 and 2009, Iran had undertaken computer modeling studies of various component arrangements, which were only specific to nuclear explosive configurations based on implosion technology. Open source information also indicated that Iran had conducted additional studies relating to high explosives modeling, which the Agency also considered significant in the context of both hydrodynamic simulation and code development studies. The modeling described above has a number of possible applications, some of which are exclusively for a nuclear explosive device.
59. Additional information received by the Agency from Member States since November 2011 is consistent with the information previously available to the Agency. Additional information was also received by the Agency from a Member State regarding a project in 2009 to determine equations of state for materials of concern.
60. In October 2014, the Agency discussed with Iran a number of these issues, including those referring to relevant Iranian open source publications. With regard to the open source publications related to neutronic calculations, Iran explained that the publications identified by the Agency were based upon past and present work undertaken by a named individual who had completed a thesis for a doctoral degree. In April 2015, Iran showed this thesis (in Farsi) to the Agency for examination. With regard to the modeling of nuclear explosive device configurations, Iran stated that such studies had never taken place in Iran. The Agency notes some similarity between the Iranian open source publications and the studies featured in the information from Member States, in terms of textual
matches, and certain dimensional and other parameters used.
61. With reference to the modeling studies on high explosives, in its submission to the Agency of 15 August 2015 under the Road-map, Iran referred to the applicability of hydrodynamic modeling to conventional military applications and stated that such applications were of no relevance to the Agency’s concern. During subsequent technical-expert meetings, Iran indicated that, in view of the strong conventional military dimensions associated with this work, it was not in a position to discuss them.
Computer Modeling and Limited Test/Simulation of a Nuclear Weapon Design
62. Based on all the information available to the Agency, including from the implementation of the Road-map, the Agency assesses that Iran conducted computer modeling of a nuclear explosive device prior to 2004 and between 2005 and 2009. The Agency notes, however, the incomplete and fragmented nature of those calculations. The Agency also notes the applicability of some hydrodynamic modeling to conventional military explosive devices.
63. Information provided to the Agency by Member States prior to November 2011 indicated that Iran considered practical measures to ensure the neutron initiation of an implosion-type nuclear explosive device by experimenting with materials and configurations which could generate neutrons under shock compression. Prior to the implementation of the Road-map, the Agency assessed that one of the indicators of the manufacture of shock-driven neutron sources was weaker than previously considered.
Developing a Neutron Initiator to Trigger the Fission Process
64. Additional information provided by a Member State prior to November 2011 indicated that activity in this area may have continued in Iran after 2004, and that, from around 2006 onwards, Iran embarked on a four-year programme on the validation of shock-driven neutron source design, including through the use of non-nuclear material to avoid contamination. Iran stated during a technical-expert meeting in September 2015 that it had carried out no activity, practical or theoretical, related to shock-driven neutron sources.
65. Iran’s submission to the Agency of August 2015 under the Road-map contained information on general neutron generation studies and identified relevant non-Iranian open source publications. Iran confirmed that research had been undertaken at an institution in Iran where plasma focus equipment was used to generate short neutron pulses and to develop and test suitable detectors. In the course of a technical visit to an institution in Iran on 9 October 2015, Iran showed the Agency neutron research capabilities at that institution.
Detonators for a Nuclear Weapon
… Information provided to the Agency by a Member State prior to November 2011 indicated that in 2002-2003 Iran may have planned and undertaken preparatory experimentation relevant to testing a nuclear explosive device. The Agency also had information that Iran had conducted a number of practical tests to see whether its EBW detonator firing component would function satisfactorily over along distance between the firing point and a test device located down a deep shaft.
67. Additional information, from the alleged studies documentation, indicated that Iran was in possession of documentation identified as being relevant to explosive safety arrangements inherent to the testing of a nuclear explosive device.
68. The Agency has not received additional information on this area since the 2011 Annex. The Agency assesses that explosive bridgewire (EBW) detonators developed by Iran have characteristics relevant to a nuclear explosive device. The Agency acknowledges that there is a growing use of EBW detonators for civilian and conventional military purposes. The Agency also assesses that the multipoint initiator (MPI) technology developed by Iran has characteristics relevant to a nuclear explosive device, as well as to a small number of alternative applications.
Preparation for Test of the Explosives Used to Detonate of Fissile Core in a Nuclear Weapon
80. Information available to the Agency in relation to hydrodynamic testing indicated that Iran made and installed a large cylinder at the Parchin military complex in 2000. Other information indicated that this cylinder matched the parameters of an explosives firing chamber featured in publications of the foreign expert. The information available to the Agency, including the results of the analysis of the samples and the satellite images, does not support Iran’s statements on the purpose of the building. Activities implemented under the Road-map have established that the cylinder is not in the main building of interest. The Agency assesses that the extensive activities undertaken by Iran since February 2012 at the particular location of interest to the Agency seriously undermined the Agency’s ability to conduct effective verification.
81. Based on all the information available to the Agency on modeling and calculations, including from the implementation of the Road-map, the Agency assesses that Iran conducted computer modeling of a nuclear explosive device prior to 2004 and between 2005 and 2009. The Agency notes, however, the incomplete and fragmented nature of those calculations. The Agency also notes the applicability of some hydrodynamic modeling to conventional military explosive devices.
Nuclear Program Through 2009; Status Unknown Since
84. The Agency assesses that, before the end of 2003, an organizational structure was in place in Iran suitable for the coordination of a range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device. Although some activities took place after 2003, they were not part of a coordinated effort.
85. The Agency’s overall assessment is that a range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device were conducted in Iran prior to the end of 2003 as a coordinated effort, and some activities took place after 2003. The Agency also assesses that these activities did not advance beyond feasibility and scientific studies, and the acquisition of certain relevant technical competences and capabilities. The Agency has no credible indications of activities in Iran relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device after 2009.
Iran Nuclear Missile Warhead efforts
The IAEA report also makes several specific references to Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear warheads for its missiles:
69. Extensive information provided to the Agency within the alleged studies documentation prior to November 2011 indicated detailed project work conducted in Iran in 2002-2003 to examine how to integrate a new spherical payload into the existing payload chamber of the re-entry vehicle for the Shahab 3 missile so that such a payload would survive the severe launch and re-entry environments, and remain functional until it reached its target. According to this information, these engineering studies, which included practical, theoretical and design considerations, also utilised a number of workshops where components and mock-up model parts were made. The information also indicated that details of the project work were recorded in reports.
70. In the course of Road-map implementation, Iran was requested by the Agency, inter alia, to arrange visits to the workshops identified by the Agency as those featured in the alleged studies documentation.
71. On 30 September 2015, the Agency was shown a short video by Iran of each of the three workshops identified in the alleged studies documentation. Two of these videos were said to have been filmed inside the two workshops which were still operating, while the third was said to have been filmed from outside the workshop which was no longer in business. On 15 October 2015, the Agency was invited to visit the two operational workshops. From these videos and visits, the Agency has verified that the workshops are those described in the alleged studies documentation. Further, the workshop’s features and capabilities are consistent with those described in the alleged studies documentation.
72. The Agency has verified the existence in Iran of two of the workshops referred to in the alleged studies documentation, but has not received any other information on this area since the 2011 Annex.
73. Prior to November 2011, the Agency had a number of documents from the alleged studies documentation which referred to the development of a prototype firing system that would enable the newly designed payload for a Shahab 3 missile to explode in the air above a target or upon impact with the ground.
74. The information available to the Agency from the alleged studies documentation indicated that Iran considered a number of technical options for a fuzing, arming and firing system that would ensure that the new Shahab 3 missile spherical payload would remain safe until the re-entry vehicle reached its designated target, and that the payload would then function correctly.
75. The Agency has not received additional information on this area since the 2011 Annex.
82. The Agency has verified the existence in Iran of two of the workshops referred to in the alleged studies documentation on the integration into a missile delivery vehicle, but has not received any other information on this area since the 2011 Annex.
83. The Agency has not received information additional to that contained in the alleged studies documentation on conducting a test or on fuzing, arming and firing systems since the 2011 Annex.
These parts of the report needed to be contrasted with some of the statements Iran made during the JCPOA negotiations. In mid-July 2015, Ali Akbar Velayati, Khamenei’s adviser for international affairs, gave a statement to Iran’s semi-official Fars new agency that stated the UNSC resolution “on Iran’s defensive capabilities, specially its missiles, is unacceptable….This resolution has been prepared under the influence of expansionist western states to undermine Iran’s defense, and specially missile capabilities, and it is unacceptable from Iran’s point of view…The goal of these moves by the UNSC which is under their [the western powers’] influence is to deprive Iran of its Islamic-Iranian identity, independence and territorial integrity, but Iran will not accept this and other similar resolutions.”
Velayati made it clear that Iran felt that missiles that were specifically designed to carry nuclear warheads remained outside the scope of the nuclear deal. “Missiles like Shahab, Sejjil and the like, have never been used for carrying nuclear warheads, and therefore, are not subject to the paragraphs of the Vienna draft agreement.”
The Iranian Foreign Ministry also issue a statement in early July 2015 that, “Iran’s military capabilities, including its ballistic missiles, are exclusively for legitimate defense; these equipment have not been designed for the capability to carry nuclear payloads and thus, fall outside the scope and the jurisdiction of the UNSC resolution and its annexes.” (“Top Khamenei aide says limits on Iran’s missile capabilities ‘unacceptable’), July 30, 2015, http://www.timesofisrael.com/top-khamenei-aide-rejects-unsc-limits-on-irans-missile-capabilities/ .)
The IAEA report strongly contradicts these Iranian statements, and it’s important to point out that there are rumors in the U.S. intelligence community that there are more data confirming Iran’s interest in nuclear missile warheads than are mentioned in the IAEA report.
“Distrust And Enforce”
It is equally dangerous to either overreact or underreact to Iran’s missile programs and tests. There was never any real chance that UN resolutions could block Iran’s missile programs, and very little real world prospect that Iran could have been persuaded to accept a blanket ban on meaningful missile development as part of the JCPOA.
It is probably useful to protest any Iranian violation of any UN resolution, but it is not realistic to expect meaningful results in many cases, or to see Iran’s ongoing missile tests and developments as a proven violation of the JCPOA or only as part of a nuclear missile program.
Iran has strong reasons to develop its missile program as a counterweight to its inferiority in air power and surface-to-air missiles, and its efforts to develop precision-guided conventional armed missiles could give it strike capabilities approaching “weapons of mass effectiveness” as a substitute for weapons of mass destruction, and ones whose actual use would be considerably more credible as deterrents or as weapons in wars of intimidation. Building offensive ballistic and cruise missiles also costs Iran a small fraction of the money necessary to buy effective missile defense systems.
But, the IAEA report is a clear warning that Iran has sought nuclear weapons and nuclear missile warheads, and consistently lied about it at the highest level. It is a warning that the P5+1 and all nations concerned about Iran’s programs must fully enforce all of the provisions of the JCPOA, and see Iran’s larger missiles as part of a potential dual-use program that can be relatively quickly converted to a nuclear-armed force if Iran can produce the necessary nuclear weapons.
“Trust but verify,” the slogan once used in describing the enforcement effort in Soviet-U.S. arms control talks does not apply to either Iran’s nuclear programs or its missile programs. The slogan – in Iran’s case – has to be “distrust and enforce.”
Unfortunately, “distrust” is also a term that has to be applied to some degree to both the White House and a partisan Congress. The new disclosures in the IAEA report all had to be well known to the Obama Administration long before the Congressional debate over the JCPOA. The United States has not, however, issued more than the most token amount of unclassified data on Iran’s nuclear program since the brief summary it issued of the 2007 NIE on Iran’s weapons efforts.
One could also apply the phrase “distrust and fail to enforce” to the U.S. Congress. Blustering partisan opposition to the JCPOA – focused more on campaigning than the national interest -- is no substitute for Congressional requirements for regular substantive reporting or unclassified transparency about critical aspects of Iran’s nuclear and missile programs.
Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C.
Commentary is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).
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