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Sejjil Missiles Cast A Shadow Over The Middle East

February 3, 2022
Via Iranian media.

The last quarter of 2021 featured successive complex military exercises undertaken by Iran’s military branches–the Artesh and the IRGC. The largest among them was “Great Prophet 17” in December and while its goal was to exhibit conventional forces defeating an invasion a surprising aspect was a missile barrage that Iranian media fixated on because it simulated an attack on Israel. The highlight of the demonstration of the IRGC’s prized ballistic missiles were the Sejjils. (Pictured above.) These are probably Iran’s most effective medium-range ballistic missiles and the country’s best deterrent in the absence of nuclear warheads.

The Sejjil’s existence was known to US and other Western analysts by the late 2000s. It’s the most sophisticated missile to date based on the enhanced R-17 (also known as Scud B/C) that were once assembled in North Korea. The exact lineage of the Sejjil can be traced to the Shahab-3, itself a derivative of the North Korean “Scud C” SRBM, and with many improvements between them, such as the Sejjil’s solid fuel propulsion rather than liquid fuel. The Sejjil is a multiple stage missile where a secondary booster activates before reaching the apogee, or the highest point in its flight, and detaches from the lower airframe. As it enters terminal velocity the Sejjil’s warhead, which can be armed with 1,600 pounds of high explosive, also detaches and guides itself to the target. Some believe the Sejjil forms its own “family” of missiles with the Sejjil-2 and Sejjil-3 having ranges that exceed 2,000 kilometers.

The Sejjil is unique for its size and flight characteristics although the Jericho 2 MRBM of Israel and the Shaheen II MRBM of Pakistan invite some comparisons. The threat posed by the Sejjil is extreme when it’s deployed anywhere along Iran’s western regions. All of the capitals in the Arabian Peninsula and Eastern Mediterranean are within striking distance and by extension any critical infrastructure such as airports, military installations, and power plants. Complicating matters is the IRGC’s uninterrupted mass-production of the Sejjil’s “cousins” the Emad (the name is derived from a Hezbollah operative) and the Ghadr that resemble the Sejjil but have less range–estimates put them at more than 1,500 km. Both the Emad and Ghadr are single stage liquid fuel missiles, by the way, and carry separating conventional warheads.

What’s frustrating about the IRGC’s ballistic missile arsenal is they have a longstanding propaganda campaign to advertise it as a powerful deterrent versus regional enemies. The evidence of their accuracy and destructive effects are plentiful. Yet the wealth of photos and videos showing these missiles and their storage facilities still can’t inform spy agencies and other organizations that use open sources to measure the arsenal’s size. The US’ own big letter spy agencies come short in their own literature, offering no realistic numbers, and while it’s true the IRGC possess thousands of large diameter battlefield rockets their missile inventory defies easy measurement.

The International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) did publish a serious assessment of the Sejjil/Sejjil-2 in a report on the Iranian ballistic missile program. According to the IISS’ research on the missile’s origins testing began in 2008 and continued until 2011. A full ten years passed before the Sejjil reappeared in Iranian media for the “Great Prophet 15” exercises in January 2021 and again for “Great Prophet 2017” come December that same year. The IISS is convinced the Sejjil is a work-in-progress. “Iran has probably incorporated a more modern strap-down guidance system to the missile,” the authors wrote. “Most likely a ruggedized version of the one used by the Ghadr-1.”

“Test footage shows that the missile is controlled and steered effectively using jet vanes, suggesting that Iran succeeded in replacing the fragile graphite vanes of the Ghadr-1 with hardened materials,” the authors wrote. They also cast doubt on the operational availability of the Sejjil and claim it still requires further testing. But 30 years of the IRGC’s ballistic missile attacks show these work as intended and that external analysis of their technical limitations often underestimate the weapon system. It’s fair to consider the Sejjil/Sejjil-2, along with the Emad and Ghadr, a distinct “family” of missiles apart from the shorter ranged Fateh-series and the Shahab-series.

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