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The Iranian Army Have A Not-So-Secret Super Weapon

April 23, 2019

Via Iranian Media.

Iran celebrated Army Day with military parades in several cities on April 18. Of course, the largest among them was in Tehran’s Imam Khomeini mausoleum whose palatial expanse includes a parade ground. It bears repeating the Islamic Republic’s armed forces isn’t a cohesive institution but a grouping of organizations. Foremost is the Revolutionary Guard or IRGC who were targeted with sanctions this month. The IRGC in turn draws its manpower from the Basij militia. The much larger Artesh passes for the “regular” armed forces with its conscripted soldiers and separate branches.

During this year’s Army Day parade the Artesh showed off their colorful arsenal. Although much of it is antiquated, the large diameter rockets that were driven by President Rouhani deserves close attention.

Obsessed with defending the present government from an invasion, Iran’s military spent much of the past three decades building a formidable deterrent that compensates for its embarassing air power. Despite onerous sanctions, the results have been spectacular and Iran today boasts a formidable collection of short and medium-range ballistic missiles. Rockets also have an important role in this doctrine and the local military industry harnessed Chinese and North Korean expertise to develop homegrown models spanning several calibers.

At the April 18 parade were a fleet of 6×6 trucks mounting erector launchers with large diameter rockets. Examining open sources such as Iran’s arms export agency revealed these were Nazeat-10 (pictured above) and Zelzal-3 rockets that are capable of hitting targets hundreds of kilometers away. While it’s true the IRGC control Iran’s ballistic missiles and other offensive weapons, the Artesh maintain its own rocket artillery whose reach and scale should give regional adversaries pause.

For comparison, here’s the US Army’s Honest John was meant to travel anywhere and launch small nuclear warheads.

Aside from 122mm Grad rockets–these are manufactured locally–the Artesh have 240mm and 333mm Fajr 3/5 rocket artillery at its disposal. The Fajr-series are devastating when used against conventional formations since these rockets can lay waste to swathes of territory. The Nazeat-10 is different though. Its size, eight meters long and with a diameter of 457mm, means it’s loaded by a crane on a single launcher. Each Nazeat-10 travels farther than any howitzer round, hitting targets 130 kilometers away.

The massive Zelzal-2/3 surpasses the Nazeat-10 by delivering its 2,000 pound warhead 200 km; its impact is strong enough to leave permanent damage on critical infrastructure. Being 9.6 meters long and with a diameter of 616mm, Zelzals can be mistaken for the potent Fateh-110 ballistic missile. Both share little in common except a basic fuselage. Should the Artesh need to recapture a small city, for example, the unrestricted use of Zelzals will leave entire blocks in ruins and uninhabitable.

It may seem anachronistic for the Artesh to bother with large diameter rockets in the 21st century. During the Cold War, NATO and Soviet armies still maintained “tactical” missiles designed to carry small nuclear warheads. The late MGR-1 Honest John (range=25 km) favored by the US Army in the 1950s comes to mind. Iran may not have tactical nuclear weapons, or any nuclear weapons, but unguided rockets such as the Nazeat and Zelzal are ideal for hitting enemy command posts, logistics, and other vital locations during a conventional war. Indeed, since many armies today have neglected mobile air defenses and there are no existing countermeasures against rocket artillery (save for Israel’s expensive Iron Dome) the Artesh’ battlefield rockets can cripple enemies with prolonged bombardment.

The extent of the Artesh’ rocket artillery arsenal is speculative. But the fact that it’s all locally made, sanctions or not, means mass-producing them have negligible costs. Iran’s unguided weapons, by the way, proved themselves in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. Simply put, their effectiveness can’t be dismissed.

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