Iran Missile Update – 2000

Iran continues to mount one of the largest ballistic missile efforts in the Middle East. In September 2000, CIA Intelligence Officer Robert D. Walpole testified before Congress that the United States will probably face an intercontinental ballistic missile threat from Iran during the next 15 years. Iran has already deployed hundreds of short-range missiles, which can reach most of Iraq and various targets around the Persian Gulf, and will soon deploy the medium-range Shahab-3 ballistic missile, which can reach Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Iran has also announced the development of the longer-range Shahab-4 missile, and “has mentioned plans” for a Shahab-5 missile which, according to a U.S. Department of Defense spokesman, “could have an intercontinental range.” Iran continues to import technology and materials from China, North Korea and Russia that will allow it to produce missile systems indigenously.

Recent developments

In July 2000, Iran conducted the second successful test flight of the Shahab-3 missile in two years. In a third test two months later the missile exploded shortly after launch. The road-mobile 1,300 kilometer-range liquid-fueled missile is reported to carry a 750 kilogram payload. The Shahab-3 consists of the imported North Korean Nodong missile enhanced with Russian-supplied technology. In February 1999, Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani stated that manufacture of the missile was underway. According to Mr. Walpole, “Tehran probably has a small number of Shahab-3s available for use” in a crisis. In July 2000, the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps announced the formation of five new units which will be equipped with the Shahab-3.

Reports say the Shahab-4 missile has an approximate range of 2,000 kilometers and can carry a 1,000 kilogram warhead. The Shahab-4 is reportedly based on the obsolete Soviet SS-4 “Sandel” liquid-fuel missile. Defense Minister Shamkhani announced in February 1999 that the Shahab-4 was in production – as a space launch vehicle with no military application.

According to Mr. Walpole, Iran has “mentioned plans” to develop a Shahab-5 missile which would have a longer range. CIA analysts assess that Iran could flight test an ICBM armed with a nuclear payload – using Russian technology – in the latter half of the next decade.

In January 2000, Defense Minister Shamkhani announced that Iran had commissioned projects to produce HTPB resin, aluminum powder and potassium chlorite at the Ministry of Defense’s Education and Research Institute to help in the indigenous production of solid rocket fuel.

Foreign assistance

Mr. Walpole also testified that “entities in Russia, North Korea and China continue to supply the largest amount of ballistic missile-related goods, technology and expertise to Iran.” A month later, CIA Nonproliferation Center Director John Lauder told Congress that “Russian entities have helped the Iranian missile effort in areas such as training, testing and components.” He noted that Russian assistance “has helped Iran save years in its development of the Shahab-3…and is playing a crucial role in Iran’s ability to develop more sophisticated and longer-range missiles.”

In February 1999, the United States imposed sanctions on ten Russian entities for providing to Iran technologies related to weapons of mass destruction: the Baltic State Technical University, Europalace 2000, Glavkosmos, the State Scientific Research Institute of Graphite (NIIGRAFIT), the Russian Scientific and Production Center (Inor), the MOSO Company, the Polyus Scientific Production Association, the Mendeleyev University of Chemical Technology, the Moscow Aviation Institute, and the Scientific Research and Design Institute of Power Technology (NIKIET).

In April 2000, the United States imposed sanctions on North Korea’s Changgwang Sinyong Corporation and four Iranian entities (the Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL), the Aerospace Industries Organization, the Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group, and the Sanam Industrial Group) for engaging in “missile technology proliferation activities.” In addition, it was reported that North Korea sold Iran 12 Nodong missile engines in November 1999.

Iranian exports

Iran is also becoming a supplier of missile technology. In October 1999, the press reported that Iran sold an undisclosed number of short-range Scud B and C missiles to the Congo. According to the report, a delegation of Iranian technicians was sent to assemble the missiles, which were the first export of Iranian-made versions of a Scud.