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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Iran's deeply disturbing missile development

Uzi Rubin, who oversaw the development of Israel's Arrow missile from 1991-99, discusses Iran's disturbing progress in offensive missile development.
It's not just Israel's problem anymore. The cumulative weight of Iranian missile development achievements in the last two years puts Iran's programs into a context which might be wider than the Middle East. Up to now, the Iranian programs could fit only a local scenario. However, recent developments may show not necessarily the intention but at least the capability of the Iranians to extend their missile program to potential targets beyond the Middle East.

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In 1988 the Iranians had only Scud B and Scud C missiles. Ten years later they had their first operational Shahab III. The Iranians bought the Shahab, which has a range of 1,300 km., from North Korea, including the production line. We now see the Iranians building underground silos for the Shahab, to make it more survivable.

The Iranians are also now capable of taking an unguided rocket like the Zalzal - that Hizbullah also has - and turning it into a guided rocket with a range of 200 kilometers. This is an original Iranian project; we don't see it anywhere else.

They have also upgraded their ballistic missiles to become satellite launchers. To orbit a satellite is a very complicated project. There are missile stages, and a careful guidance and control system to insert the satellite into a stable, desired trajectory. They took the Shahab, extended it a bit, added more propellant, and now they have the Safir space launch vehicle. They launched it twice and the second time it was successful; for a while they had a test satellite in orbit. They built a two-stage satellite launcher with a very elegant upper stage, incomparable to anything we know - an impressive engineering achievement.

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On May 19, 2009, the EastWest Institute issued a report entitled Iran's Nuclear and Missile Potential: A Joint Threat Assessment by U.S. and Russian Technical Experts, claiming that "There is no reliable information at the present on the state of Iran's efforts to develop solid propellant rocket motors." The next day, on May 20, the Iranians successfully fired a solid fuel Sejil rocket. Solid propellant leaves a trail of particles behind, while liquid propellant has transparent flames that don't leave any trail, so video reports of the launch are quite revealing.

What is also impressive here is the pace of development. In 2005 we heard for the first time about the coming of the Sejil. The first flight occurred thirty months after the end of development of the solid propellant motors. Iran's space program is even more impressive.

They have the engineers to understand what they are doing. They have the system engineers to engineer fixes and they have the program managers to run the whole program. They have demonstrated the ability to manufacture a 14-ton solid propellant rocket motor, and they have the infrastructure they need. To build such a rocket you need big, expensive installations. They are not available for sale, they are controlled by the Missile Technology Control Regime, but Iran has managed to acquire them. All of this infrastructure is in Iran. Another point on the proficiency of their engineers: I received a list of Iranian technical publications from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, all of them dealing with big solid propellant rocket motors.

The Iranians conducted six major tests of multi-stage missiles in eighteen months by two different teams from two different test ranges with all the instrumentation and flight control guidance system telemetry. When there is a challenge, they overcome the challenge.

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The Iranian defense minister has spoken of two missiles: the Kadr I that goes 2,000 km. and the Sejil that goes more than 2,000 km. Why is 2,000 km. significant? Less than 2,000 km. does not threaten Europe. Beyond that you are starting to threaten Europe.

Two weeks after the EastWest Institute report came out, Ted Postol of MIT, one of its authors, published an addendum to the report. Based on data he presented, our calculations show that the Sejil has an actual range of about 2,500 km. Such a range could reach Warsaw and, indeed, six European Union countries: Poland, Slovakia, Rumania, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Greece. The Tabriz launch area in Iran is as big as Azerbeijan, bigger than Israel and half of Jordan. It's about 50,000 sq. km., full of mountains, valleys, and canyons. You can hide thousands of ballistic missiles there with a very high probability of survival. So the capability to make a survivable missile that can threaten Europe now exists in Iran.

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The solid propellant Sejil is the watershed breakthrough. The Iranians have the technology right now to produce an intermediate range ballistic missile that can threaten Europe. Whether they do it or not involves the question of intention, but they are capable of doing it. The EastWest Institute report estimates that it will take Iran about six years to fit a nuclear warhead on a missile. If this is true, then the time to start missile defense in Europe is now. The fact that the Iranians are building that capability is something that should be brought to public view.
Read the whole thing.

In the wake of this threat to Europe, the Obama administration proposed backing off a US missile defense system in return for Russian assistance in stopping Iran from going nuclear. But Iran doesn't seem to need a whole lot of Russian assistance to 'go nuclear' anymore. And when Obama went to Russia in July, he did not get a commitment not to sell the Iranians the S-300 anti-missile system, which will, if sold to Iran, allow Iran to protect its nuclear program.

What could go wrong?

1 Comments:

At 2:55 PM, Blogger Chrysler 300M said...

and, should we decide to attack Iran it can only be a nuclear attack

 

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