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Iran Is Overproducing Ballistic Missiles

October 22, 2022
The Kheybar Shekan in Tehran on September 22. Via Iranian media.

For all its internal problems Iran’s conventional military power continues to grow. A specific niche that enjoys regular media exposure are its missiles–for reasons of prestige and their strategic value–such such as those belonging to the IRGC rocket force. This year saw the introduction of another medium-range missile called the Kheybar Shekan or “Kheibar Shekan”, whose name refers to a historic battle in Islamic history, and a lesser-known counterpart Rezvan. They both appeared at an annual military parade in Tehran on September 22 and the Kheybar Shekan is reported to have a 1,450 kilometer range. The justifications for adding to the IRGC’s existing missile arsenal may not be well understood but the result is a stockpile of the same magnitude as world powers such as China and Russia.

The Kheybar Shekan represents a new “family” among Iran’s ballistic missiles that began with the Zolfaqar/Zolfaghar in 2016 and diversified into the Fateh Mobin, Dezful, Ra’ad 500, and the Haj Qasem in 2020. This lineage shares the external characteristics of the Fateh-series like prominent fins around the booster and canards on the warhead. The differences are in larger elongated airframes, highly maneuverable separating warheads, and their road mobile transporters. When first publicized in February this year the Kheybar Shekan was classed as a medium-range solid fuel missile (its engine propellant combines aluminum powder and synthetic polymer) that is carried by either a three-axle or five-axle transporter. The IRGC showed the Kheybar Shekans loaded two at a time on five-axle transporters hidden in an underground storage facility. The size of the Kheybar Shekan’s separating warhead indicates it’s designed to evade theater level anti-missile defenses through maneuverability and hypersonic terminal speeds. For Quds Day (Jerusalem Day) in April a single Kheybar Shekan missile was seen on a 6×6 truck during an exhibition.

This year’s Sacred Defense Week culminated with the usual parade at the Imam Khomeini mausoleum where the Kheybar Shekan made its fourth appearance. Just days prior in Yemen it turned out Ansar Allah fielded the same missiles at their own parade in Sana’a. The year so far has seen extraordinary use of Iranian ballistic missiles. On March 13, just a month after the hype surrounding the Kheybar Shekan, the IRGC launched a punitive missile salvo at Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, in an attempt to neutralize an Israeli spy safe house. What made the display of firepower on March 13 egregious was the proximity of the missile strikes to the US consulate. Using missiles this way was once reserved for Kurdish separatists who are sheltered in the border areas. Another exception were the retaliatory attacks on US forces in January 2020 after the assassination of Quds Force leader Qasem Soleimani. With total disregard for Iraqi sovereignty the IRGC launched several dozen missiles on Kurdistan for the second time this year in late September. The operation was understood as a punitive one and was meant to deflect from the government’s brutal crackdown on protesters after the death of the 22-year-old citizen Mahsa Amini, an Iranian Kurd, who passed away in hospital after getting beaten up by Iranian police. What the brief campaign achieved is intangible but it did show how brazen the IRGC leadership is with a vast arsenal at their fingertips.

Last March the outgoing head of CENTCOM, Gen. Frank Mckenzie, spoke at length about Iran’s military posture at a hearing with US lawmakers. He is the latest and highest ranking American general to acknowledge that Iran’s ballistic missile arsenal has grown to unprecedented size: 3,000 missiles of all types. What Gen. Mackenzie didn’t elaborate on is the distribution between the IRGC’s rocket force and the regular army, who have their own outdated missiles and long-range battlefield rockets. To help the reader grasp how fast Iran’s conventional missile program is expanding just recall these last eight years. The timespan is important because it marks a break in the evolution of Iranian missiles. Where once these could be organized under two “families” like the Fatehs and the Shahabs originating from the 1990s this is no longer applicable. Since 2015 the IRGC have introduced and begun production of 10 road mobile ballistic missiles with varying ranges. On top of this are five distinct cruise missiles with adaptable launch methods and at least one nuclear-capable intermediate-range missile that can be armed with multiple warheads.

On October 17 a leading US newspaper broke a story about Russia purchasing Iranian-made “Fateh and Zolfaqar” ballistic missiles for its war effort in Ukraine. Other press agencies soon corroborated The Washington Post‘s scoop and revealed deeper level of cooperation between Moscow and Tehran than previously assumed. Having Fateh-series ballistic missiles available for export was never a secret and Iran’s defense ministry advertised these at arms shows in Azerbaijan, Iraq, and Russia. Their destructive effects are equally well-known and should they arrive in a European conflict its outcome becomes unpredictable.

Below is a tabulation for Iranian tactical missile development since 2015.

2015Soumarcruise missile2,500 km
Fateh-313solid fuel, SRBM500 km
Emad-1liquid fuel, SRBM1,800 km
2016Emad-2liquid fuel, SRBM1,800 km
Zolfaqar/Zolfagharsolid fuel, SRBM700 km
2017Khorramshahrliquid fuel, MRBM2,500 km
2018Fateh Mobinsolid fuel, SRBM500 km
2019Dezfulsolid fuel, SRBM1,000 km
Hoveizehcruise missile1,350 km
2020Ra’ad 500solid fuel, SRBM500 km
Haj Qasemsolid fuel, SRBM1,400 km
Abu Mahdicruise missile1,000 km
2021Fath-360long-range rocket artillery120 km
2022Heydar-1/2cruise missile-/-
Emad-3liquid fuel, SRBM1,800 km
Kheybar Shekansolid fuel, MRBM1,450 km
Rezvanliquid fuel, MRBM1,400 km

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