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This Iranian Missile Is A Whole Lot Of Bad News

May 6, 2020

Via Iranian media.

Weeks after surface-to-surface missiles bombarded two locations in Iraq that left scores of US soldiers with minor injuries the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) and Iranian media started promoting a new short-range model called “Ra’ad 500.” Of course, specific details about the missile weren’t disclosed but Iranian media claimed it had two special characteristics: a separating warhead and a “composite” engine. What this meant is the Ra’ad 500’s maneuvers while in flight and is designed to avoid countermeasures. the Ra’ad 500’s structure includes an inertial navigation system and canards or winglets around the separating warhead. When combining all three (canards, inertial navigation, composite engine) the result is a new high precision short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) that’s a generational leap compared to the older Fateh-series.

Another critical technology displayed by the IRGC on the same  occasion was a new rocket booster with thrust vector control. It may seem innocuous but thrust vector control is vital for adjusting a rocket’s flight and has broad applications in space, near-space, and tactical systems. The IRGC didn’t specify if thrust vector control would be adopted on the engines for its ballistic missiles but if this is possible Iran will once again be ahead of its neighbors when it comes to precision weapons. It’s Iran’s fledgling space program that may benefit the most from engines with thrust vector control since there is an existing policy to send small satellites into orbit.

Unveiling the Ra’ad 500 took place one month after the IRGC launched missiles at targets in Iraq as retaliation for the death of Maj. Gen. Soleimani after his vehicle was blown up by a US drone on January 3. The aftermath of the bombardment on Al Assad airbase leveled entire structures and proved once and for all that Iran’s ballistic missiles are as effective as advertised. Some American analysts and researchers always doubted the usefulness of the IRGC’s varied missile arsenal; the Fateh and Qiam missiles launched on January 8 against Al Assad and another location near Kirkuk set the record straight. While the US military didn’t retaliate for the attacks on its troops further airstrikes have been conducted against proxies like Kataib Hezbollah whose members almost besieged the US embassy in Baghdad’s Green Zone in late December.

The Ra’ad 500 was shown to Iranian media on February 9. The scheduling was intentional since month of February commemorates the revolution in 1979 that drove away the Shah and his regime. It’s also during February when achievements in the scientific or military field are promoted as evidence of how successful Iran’s current governance is. In February last year multiple events took place to mark the 40th anniversary of the Islamic revolution and the IRGC displayed its new missiles like the Hoveizeh and the Dezful. The Ra’ad 500 does resemble the Dezful whose range is estimated to be 1,000 kilometers–no small achievement when few countries in the Middle East possess ballistic missiles able to strike targets beyond 300 km away.

Test footage of the Ra’ad 500 broadcast by Iranian media revealed it’s fired from the same launcher as the Fateh-series whose origins date to the 1990s. Fatehs were once carried on the beds of 6×6 trucks but the IRGC now have proper elongated launcher vehicles that transport the missiles two at a time. The Fatehs have several variants as their performance characteristics were improved across decades and they’re now on par with the Chinese DF-15A/B and the Russian Iskander-M. The Ra’ad 500 conforms to the appearance of the Fatehs, having a stretched cylindrical body stabilized by tail fins at the bottom and winglets around the warhead, yet the crucial difference–according to Iranian media–is its engine type whose material consists of lightweight carbon fiber for reducing weight thereby increasing its range.

The explosive force of the Ra’ad 500’s warhead isn’t public knowledge but if its development involves adding thrust vector control this suggests it can evade ground-based anti-ballistic missile defenses. When ballistic missiles reach their apogee the descent that follows accelerates to supersonic speeds, making them impervious from countermeasures, and in the case of the Ra’ad 500 its canards help adjust its warhead’s trajectory for a guaranteed strike. Whether or not the Ra’ad 500 has the same range as the Dezful it gives the IRGC another advantage over regional anti-missile defenses such as THAAD and the Israeli-made Barak and David’s Sling systems.

With their cost-effectiveness and indigenous production the size of the IRGC’s ballistic missile arsenal, disregarding large diameter rocket artillery, could be in the low thousands.

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