Friday, December 01, 2006

Analysis: Iran's growing array of missiles

By JOSHUA BRILLIANT UPI Correspondent TEL AVIV, Israel, Nov. 30 (UPI) -- With missiles that can reach every corner of the Middle East and survive preemptive strikes, Iran is already "the major missile power of the region, at least in theory," said a former head of Israel's missile defense program. "No other country in the world ... comes close to Iran in the number and variety of ballistic missiles in development or already deployed," Uzi Rubin wrote in a study published by the Institute for National Security Studies. And yet, some of those missiles' effectiveness is questionable, he noted. Rubin based his study on published materials but his background -- from 1991 to 1999 he was the Arrow anti-ballistic missile program manager -- enables him to better analyze those reports. He wrote that most of the missiles designed to control the sea, land, and air near Iran show Chinese and Russian pedigree. The Raad, apparently an advanced version of the Chinese Silkworm, is a shore based anti-ship missile whose range should be sufficient to bloc the Persian Gulf at its widest point. The Zelzal, which originally hails from China, is intended to hit hostile troops concentrated some 125 miles away. Other programs are externally similar to the old Soviet Strela, and anti-tank missiles. During naval exercises, in April 2006, Iran unveiled a rocket propelled underwater projectile and a flying boat. However, "A cursory examination of the video images revealed them to be 1960s vintage Soviet technologies" that Russian companies are marketing, "Apparently with no great success." Iran's Shahab family of ballistic missiles shares the heritage, propulsion technology and general layout of the Soviet R11 missiles of the 1950s, also known as the Scuds. Gradually it has been increasing its missiles' ranges and they are, "an indispensable complement to its nuclear ambitions," according to Rubin. Iran bought Scud B and Scud C missiles with their launchers and production lines, dubbed them Shahab 1 and 2, and manufactured them "in considerable quantities," Rubin noted. That program was initially designed to counter the Iraqi threat. Eventually Iran amended its threat perception. It sought to dissuade Saudi Arabia from hosting U.S. forces, and -- if the U.S. attacked -- planned to strike at Israel. Hence the Shahab 3. It is, "a very close relative, if not a full fledged clone of the North Korean mysterious No Dong," wrote Rubin. In 2004, Iran tested an extended version of the Shahab 3. It is a longer missile, its internal design seems to have been significantly modified, and it "carries the telltale signs of Soviet-style missile engineering." After that test the Iranians said their missiles have a range of about 1,250 miles. With them, "Every major city and military installation between the western shores of Turkey and the eastern border of Pakistan and between the Black Sea in the north and the southern narrows of the Red Sea are within range," Rubin noted. Moreover, it can hit any point in the Middle East from fixed sites deep inside Iran. It can deploy the missiles from well-protected silos "survivable against preemption." Only 10 Shahab 3 flight tests were conducted between July 1998, when it was first tried, and May 2006. "This is a remarkably low number for what is surely a strategic weapon for Iran." About half those tests ended in total or partial failure, Rubin said. By Western standards the Shahab 3 would not yet be considered operational. It would not be mass-produced. However, Iranians seem to think that if the design works once or twice, they are ready to take the chance that it will work in the battlefield too. "There should be no doubt that in case of conflict, Iran will launch Shahab 3 missiles regardless of their flight test record, and that some of them will reach their destinations," Rubin stressed. Last year Iran's then-Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani elaborately extolled solid propellant rocketry and alluded to a twin-engine missile; Rubin inferred that Iran is engaged in developing a multi-stage strategic range ballistic missile. He told United Press International he believes Iran's intelligence was behind the theft of KH55 (Kent) cruise missiles in the Ukraine. The plane that flew them out belonged to a company whose address was a Tehran mailbox. "The theft ... will serve for the development of an indigenous version of a strategic cruise missile," he maintained. According to Israeli intelligence, and a German account, a BM 25 missile, with a range of roughly 1,500 to 2,200 miles, was transferred from North Korea to Iran. But the Iranians do not need such a missile to hit targets in the Middle East. The Shahab 3's range is sufficient for that. It should, however, concern the Europeans since it could reach central Europe. Iran is also developing satellites. Its achievements have been "relatively meager," according to Rubin, but its statements and disclosures about that program suggest it is picking up speed. "Any suitably modified SLV (Space Launch Vehicle) can serve as an ICBM (Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile), Rubin noted. All indications are that Iran's missile and space programs "have suffered from deficiencies in leadership and resources ... The disparate programs are making headway, but in a somewhat chaotic manner," he wrote. Nevertheless, Iran's missile and space programs "are no paper tigers." At the rate they are going, "Iranian missiles will dominate the entire continent of Europe by the end of this decade. Once they perfect their workhorse SLV, their reach will become truly global," Rubin added.

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