U.S. And Iranian Strategic Competition
April 25, 2011
With the assistance of Adam Seitz of the Marine Corps University, the Burke Chair has compiled a series of chronological reports that focus on Iranian perceptions of national security and assess Iran’s intentions concerning competition with the US. A link to the reports on Iran’s ballistic missile developments can be found here https://csis.org/files/publication/110425_Iran_Ballistic_Missiles_wilner.pdf.
The latest version of these reports is entitled “U.S. and Iranian Strategic Competition: Iranian Views of How Iran’s Asymmetric Warfare Developments Affect Competition with the US and the Gulf, Sept. 2010 – Feb. 2011,” and is available on the CSIS web site at http://csis.org/publication/us-and-iranian-strategic-competition-1.
In a Feb. 2011 press conference, General Mohammed Ali Jafari, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), unveiled a new, locally developed missile. In reference to the missile, he stated that “as the enemy’s threats will likely come from the sea, air, and by missiles, the Revolutionary Guard has been equipped with capabilities to neutralize the enemy’s advanced technology.” Such statements are useful in assessing Iran’s perception of its strategic competition with the US. They provide valuable insight regarding Iran’s disposition toward the US military presence in the region, its responses to that presence, and ultimately how it intends to confront the US strategically. As a key element of Iran’s strategic deterrent and doctrine of asymmetric warfare, Iran’s advancements in ballistic missile technology cannot be ignored.
Tehran views ballistic missiles as critical to its national defense. In addition to an effective means for delivering a nuclear warhead, Iran’s military establishment firmly believes that an effective ballistic missile program provides the country with increased strategic and asymmetric capabilities. Since the early 1980s, Iran has been developing a burgeoning ballistic missile capability based on Russian, North Korean, and Chinese technology. Iran currently possesses the largest ballistic missile inventory in the Middle East, and the country’s military and scientific establishments are working to increase the sophistication, scale, and reach of its missiles. Tehran sees its missile capabilities as a key element to deter attack as well as a means to strike at high-value targets with little warning, such as Western and Western-backed forces in the region, including US bases in the Persian Gulf.
Of particular note are Iran’s medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs), which include the Shahab-3 and its longer range variants. Based on the North Korean Nodong-1, the Shahab-3 has a range of 1,000 to1,500km, and can potentially reach targets throughout the Middle East. Other Iranian MRBMs include variants of the Shahab-3, such as the Shahab-3A, Shahab-3B, Shahab-4 (Ghadr-1), Sejjil, and the BM-25. These missiles have ranges of 1,500 to 2,500km, and are thought to be able to strike at targets throughout the Middle East, Turkey, and southeast Europe. In response to Iran’s continuing development of MRBMs and research into intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the US Navy has stationed Aegis anti-ballistic missile cruisers in the Persian Gulf. Additionally, Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia have acquired the MIM-104 Patriot surface-to-air missile system from the US, which is capable of intercepting and destroying incoming ballistic missiles.
The Iranian leadership is not shy about its country’s advancements concerning ballistic missile technology. High-ranking officials in Iran’s political and military establishments regularly boast of their country’s progress in this field. On Feb. 8, 2011, the Tehran Times reported on IRGC chief Mohammed Ali Jafari’s claims at a press conference that Iran had developed “supersonic” smart ballistic missiles which “cannot be tracked and can hit targets with high precision” as well as “coastal radars with a range of 300km.” General Jafari also stated at the conference that the IRGC had recently completed studies on two mobile radars with a range of 60km, which could be attached to small destroyers. Similarly, the Islamic Republic News Agency quoted General Jafari as stating that, “Iran is mass producing a smart ballistic missile for sea targets with a speed three times more than the speed of sound.” The Iranian Students News Agency quoted General Jafari as stating the following regarding the new weapon,
“As the enemy’s threats will likely come from the sea, air, and by missiles, the Revolutionary Guard has been equipped with capabilities to neutralize the enemy’s advanced technology.”
As the commander of the IRGC, statements made by Mohammed Ali Jafari are not to be taken lightly. While General Jafari’s statements do not mention the US directly, his mention of an enemy with “advanced technology” threatening Iran from the sea and air most likely alludes to US air and naval power. This statement and others like it reflect Iran’s strategic priority of denying foreign access to its waters, and what Iran perceives as the best measures for countering the US presence in the Persian Gulf region.
Other senior officials in Iran’s government have recently highlighted the importance of ballistic missile development. At an IRGC ceremony on Sept. 21, 2010, Iran’s Minister of Defense, Ahmad Vahidi, stated that “the operational capabilities of the missile unit of the IRGC Aerospace Force will be remarkably enhanced” by the third generation of the domestically designed and produced Fateh-110 missile. These remarks made by such a high-ranking figure are revealing; they are a direct indication of the Iranian regime’s continued willingness to improve its asymmetric capabilities against the US and step up its deterrent to attack.
Since Oct. 2010, it is believed that Iran has used satellite launches as a means of conducting further research into its ballistic missile program. While the Iranian government has not stated that these launches serve to further its missile program, there is good reason believe that they are intended to broaden Iran’s technical expertise regarding ballistic missile technology. In early Feb. 2011, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stated that Iran would fire a number of new satellites into orbit over a 12 month period starting in March 2011. Additionally, on Jan. 31, 2011, Iran’s government announced that it would soon unveil two new satellite-launch rockets: the Safir 1-B, which is capable of placing a 110 lb. satellite in 185-280-mile orbit, and the Kavoshgar-4 rocket, which has a range of roughly 75 miles. Although for the stated purpose of launching satellites, the technology used to do so is equally applicable to the research and development of ballistic missile technology.
As the Islamic Republic sees ballistic missiles as an integral aspect of protecting its revolution and safeguarding the regime from foreign intervention, these developments cannot be ignored. Although Iran’s missiles are believed to be conventionally armed and limited in range, many could potentially be armed with nuclear or chemical warheads. They also constitute the building blocks for the Islamic Republic to eventually produce ICBMs, which may be close to becoming a reality: in his Feb. 10, 2011 statement in front of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the US Director of Intelligence, James R. Clapper, stated,
“In February 2010, Iran displayed a new rocket engine design that Tehran said is for the Simorgh, a large space launch vehicle. It also displayed a simulator of the Simorgh. This technology could be used for an ICBM-class vehicle.”
In light of these developments, it is clear that the Islamic Republic will continue to develop its ballistic missile capabilities as a way to counter perceived American aggression. Given the growing sophistication, range, and scale of Iranian missiles, the country’s research and development into this technology will continue to shape the balance of forces and power in the Middle East for the foreseeable future.
The above statements made by key individuals within the Iranian regime since September 2010 are revealing. Regardless of their bias or validity, they reflect the continued hostility of the regime toward the US presence in the region as well as its desire to render the Persian Gulf inaccessible to US forces and influence. As long as the Islamic Republic sees its regional interests encroached upon or threatened by larger, more technologically advanced forces, it will almost certainly continue to develop its missile capabilities to compensate for its conventional shortcomings.
Iran’s Ballistic Missile Arsenal
Shahab-3 (“Meteor”) 800-mile range. The Defense Department report of April 2010, cited earlier, has the missiles as “deployed.” Still, several of its tests (July 1998, July 2000, and September 2000) reportedly were unsuccessful or partially successful, and U.S. experts say the missile is not completely reliable. Iran tested several of the missiles on September 28, 2009, in advance of the October 1 meeting with the P5+1.
Shahab-3 “Variant”/Sajjil 1,200-1,500-mile range. The April 2010 Defense Department report has the liquid fueled Shahab-3 “variant” as “possibly deployed.” The solid fuel version, called the Sajjil, is considered “not” deployed by the Defense Department. The Sajjil is alternatively called the “Ashoura.” These missiles potentially put large portions of the Near East and Southeastern Europe in range, including U.S. bases in Turkey.
BM-25 1,500-mile range. On April 27, 2006, Israel’s military intelligence chief said that Iran had received a shipment of North Korean-supplied BM-25 missiles. Missile said to be capable of carrying nuclear warheads. The Washington Times appeared to corroborate this reporting in a July 6, 2006 story, which asserted that the North Korean-supplied missile is based on a Soviet-era “SS-N-6” missile. Press accounts in December 2010 indicate that Iran may have received components but not the entire BM-25 missile from North Korea.
ICBM U.S. officials believe Iran might be capable of developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (3,000 mile range) by 2015, a time frame reiterated by the April 2010 DOD report.
Other Missiles On September 6, 2002, Iran said it successfully tested a 200 mile range “Fateh-110” missile (solid propellant), and Iran said in late September 2002 that it had begun production. Iran also possesses a few hundred short-range ballistic missiles, including the Shahab-1 (Scud-B), the Shahab-2 (Scud-C), and the Tondar-69 (CSS-8). In January 2009, Iran claimed to have tested a new air-to-air missile. On March 7, 2010, Iran claimed it was now producing short-range cruise missiles that it claimed are highly accurate and can destroy heavy targets.
Space Vehicle In February 2008, Iran claimed to have launched a probe into space, suggesting its missile technology might be improving to the point where an Iranian ICBM is realistic. Following an August 2008 failure, in early February 2009, Iran successfully launched a small, low-earth satellite on a Safir-2 rocket (range about 155 miles). The Pentagon said the launch was “clearly a concern of ours” because “there are dual-use capabilities here which could be applied toward the development of long-range missiles.”
Warheads A Wall Street Journal report of September 14, 2005, said that U.S. intelligence believes Iran is working to adapt the Shahab-3 to deliver a nuclear warhead. Subsequent press reports say that U.S. intelligence captured an Iranian computer in mid-2004 showing plans to construct a nuclear warhead for the Shahab. The IAEA is seeking additional information from Iran.
Iranian Rockets and Missiles
Missile Translation Fuel Type Estimated Range Payload
Fajr-3 Dawn-3 Solid 45km 45kg
Fajr-5 Dawn-5 Solid 75km 90kg
Fateh-110 Victorious Solid 200km 500kg
Ghadr-1 Powerful-1 Liquid 1600km 750kg
Iran-130/Nazeat Removal Solid 90-120km 150kg
Kh-55 Liquid 2500-3000km 400-450kg
Nazeat-6 Removal-6 Solid 100km 150kg
Nazeat-10 Removal-10 Solid 140-150km 250kg
Oghab Eagle Solid 40km 70kg
Sajjil-2 Baked Clay-2 Solid 2200-2400km 750kg
Shahab-1 Meteor-1 Liquid 300km 1000kg
Shahab-2 Meteor-2 Liquid 500km 730kg
Shahab-3 Meteor-3 Liquid 800-1000km 760-1100kg
Shahin-1 Hawk-1 Solid 13km
Shahin-2 Hawk-2 Solid 20km
Zelzal-1 Earthquake-1 Solid 125km 600kg
Zelzal-2 Earthquake-2 Solid 200km 600kg
Source: 2010 IISS Iran’s Ballistic Missile Capabilities: A Net Assessment, pg. 1