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Iran Is Betting Big On Its Ballistic And Cruise Missiles

September 4, 2018

Via Wikimedia Commons.

A conference involving foreign military attaches was held in Tehran this weekend. Although details of the event weren’t revealed, Iranian media quoted a defense ministry official named Second Brigadier General Mohammad Ahadi enumerating the modernization plans of the Artesh and the Revolutionary Guard. Ahadi mentioned “increasing the capabilities of various types of ballistic and cruise missiles” and an unspecified “new generation of fighter jets.”

Without providing additional context, Ahadi added “vessels and submarines of various weapons capabilities” to the list. This particular claim is dubious, since the Iranian navy’s only submarines are three diesel-electric Kilo-class boats imported from Russia in the 1990s augmented by a loose collection of midget submersibles. Local shipyards are also notorious for their poor turnout of naval vessels.

The agenda of the unnamed conference in Tehran appears to have been an event for displaying military products. But Iran’s actual exports to its “allies” are dismal unless, of course, deliveries for Hezbollah are factored in. The statements attributed to Second Brig. Gen. Ahadi, however, are somewhat credible. Tehran is once again developing new ballistic missiles with a focus on extreme range. The newfound enthusiasm for missiles since the Trump administration trashed the JCPOA is grim news for Gulf Arab states and Israel, since there aren’t any measures for curbing this activity.

Just like North Korea, if Iran pours even greater resources into its ballistic missile program the results can lead to a symbolic victory over its regional adversaries. Sanctions won’t be effective because Iranian missile production is confined to semi-clandestine state-owned enterprises that aren’t too reliant on foreign parts. If Iran wished to further enhance its medium-range missiles, for example, it has three “platforms” that can be made deadlier:

  • The liquid fuel Shahab-3 and its derivatives the Ghadr and Emad. These are all descendants of the North Korean Nodong/No Dong “family” whose origins can be traced to reverse engineered Soviet R-71 or Scud rockets.
  • The Sejil/Sajjil with a 2,000 kilometer range. This missile was developed throughout the 1990s and 2000s, becoming fully operational by the 2010s.
  • The mysterious Khorramshahr suspected to be a “re-branded” North Korean ICBM. The lessons learned from deploying the Khorramshahr might be used as the template for a road mobile nuclear missile in the distant future.

It’s also widely known that the local aerospace industry led by the state-owned HESA have a light fighter/trainer jet in the works. But there’s so much conflicting information about the program it’s unclear if the rumors of an upcoming Yak-130 or a locally designed twin engine model known as the “Kowsar” have any merit. It doesn’t help when Iranian media are complicit in advertising a recycled airframe passed off as an authentic “domestic” fighter jet.

For Iran to be falling back on its strategic weapons comes at a time when it’s deeply embroiled in undeclared wars against Israel and Saudi Arabia on two fronts. This week Reuters published a sensational scoop on transfers of battlefield rockets and missiles to Shia militias in Iraq. Without mentioning any of their sources by name, the reporters paint an ominous scenario where Iranian missiles are now arrayed on a broad front stretching to Damascus. Just when Baghdad and Tehran are denying the allegations published by Reuters, no less than Israel’s own defense minister insisted that his country has the right to launch preemptive strikes on Iranian targets where it sees fit.

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