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Iran Has Another New Air-To-Ground Missile

April 30, 2022
The new missile is highlighted in a purple box. Via Iranian media.

Each year, on April 18, the various branches of Iran’s regular armed forces perform elaborate demonstrations for their special holiday. A lot of antiquated and familiar hardware gets shown to the public although newer systems are revealed as well. Iranian media does its part with some glowing coverage but, surprisingly, a new missile seems to have eluded journalistic inquiry despite its appearance in multiple photos. The unnamed air-to-ground munition was spotted among a flight of Cobra gunships that conducted a flyover at the venue where the usual crowded Army Day parade took place.

The missile with a seeker tinted gold and a black airframe was carried under the wings of at least two Cobra gunships. Its appearance defied easy categorization and seems unrelated to the locally made copy of the AGM-114 Hellfire called the “Qaem” or “Meraj.” Other air-to-ground missiles tailored for the army’s combat rotorcraft are variants of the Dehlavieh and Toophan ATGMs and the Shafaq that was introduced in the previous decade. Another air-to-ground missile seen on Iranian helicopters looks derived from the AIM-9 Sidewinder. Since last year the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) introduced the top attack Almas ATGM resembling the Israeli Spike LR2 manufactured by Rafael and this copycat missile was later adapted for combat drones. Now that Iran’s military-industrial sector is successful at mass-producing precision weapons the need for another missile is unclear. A probable reason is the upgrades to extend the service lives of the army’s prized Cobra gunships enables missiles with greater ranges far beyond the Toophan or the Qaem.

Iran’s Cobra gunships are older than the Islamic Republic and are relics of a bygone era when the US deemed the country a steadfast ally. That so many remain operational is a testament to the dedication and skill of the Aerospace Industries Organization (AIO) and its industrial partners. When the late Shah Pahlavi began to enlarge the armed forces in the late 1960s his government paid for an immense helicopter fleet. In fact, the volume of orders was so large they covered Bell 214-series medium helicopters, CH-47 transport helicopters, and CH-53 heavy transports, with many remaining in service today. It’s estimated 202 Cobra gunships were delivered to Iran in the 1970s and these proved their value during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988). The past four decades of sanctions have no doubt reduced the fleet but enough are still flyable and are able to perform combat missions when needed.

Regarding this new missile, the diameter and length suggests a range up to or beyond 10 kilometers, and the lens or seeker tinted gold is for a munition that flies beyond the line-of-sight. The likeliest role of this missile is an NLOS munition with multi-mode tracking that gives the operator the choice between manual guidance, fire-and-forget, and even air-to-air targeting at low altitude. Of course, the production of this missile has implications beyond the Cobra gunship. A new generation of combat drones for the air force, the IRGC, and the navy will no doubt be able to carry these missiles and this presents a new threat for Iran’s foes in the Middle East; the US forces deployed in Syria are at the top of the list but Kurdish rebels based in Iraq and Kurds aligned with Washington, DC are fair game as well.

An interesting detail about this unnamed missile is its passing resemblance to a Chinese analog called the FT-9 that was tailored for combat drones such as the Wing Loong I/II. Yet there’s no evidence proving they’re related. Whatever its origin–chances are it’s an in-house project based on an earlier laser-guided munition–the firepower and lethality it gives Iranian combat aircraft is considerable. If this missile’s production line grows, together with the Almas and “Iranian Hellfire,” their likely surface-to-surface variants give the regular army and the IRGC–as well as Iranian proxies–some very effective precision fires that aren’t just unguided rockets. There are persistent rumors a fully indigenous “heavy” attack helicopter is in production and, if these are true, a set of air-to-ground munitions are waiting for it.

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