Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Russia and the Development of the Iranian Missile Program

Rahim Najafabadi, Axis Globe:
Military-technological cooperation between Russia and the Islamic Republic of Iran constitutes a qualitative leap from the previous occasional military liaisons between the USSR and Iran during the era of the Shah, which started at the end of 1967. READ MORE

Shortly after the Islamic revolution in Iran (February 1979), the USSR tried to arrange military cooperation between the countries. However Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini undermined these attempts in every possible way, as they opposed his concept of an Islamic regime in the country, which affirmed the necessity of struggling against "the Big Satan" (the USA) and "the Small Satan" (the USSR).

In the 1980s and 1990s, the imposition of an embargo on deliveries of arms for the Iranian army by Europe and America compelled Teheran to intensively pursue military purchases from the Soviet Union, and later from Russia.

In 1988 – 1992, Iran procured $2.2 billion worth of Russian weapons and combat equipment. Iran is the only state in the Middle East today whose cooperation in the military sphere allows Russia both to satisfy its economic interests and to strengthen its influence in the region. As for Iran's interests - military cooperation with Russia gives it access to modern arms, outflanking the Western embargo.

Russian Secrets from Pyongyang

Interaction in the spheres of the design, creation and delivery of equipment related to rocket technology is one of the priorities of the military-technological cooperation between Russia and Iran. The military doctrine of the Islamic republic is based on usage of precision missiles such as the "Shahab" and "Fateh" as vehicles for the delivery of chemical, biological and - prospectively - nuclear strikes.

Experts from North Korea, Libya and Russia have cooperated from time to time with Iranian missile scientists on the creation of warhead parts. Creation of the Iranian ballistic missiles began after the start of batch production of artillery rockets such as the "Ogab" and "Mushak" (having a small radius - from 50 to 160 km respectively). With assistance of North Korean experts, in 1988 Iranians started to modernize "Scud" missiles according to the engineering specifications provided to Pyongyang by Russia. However, in 1993 Teheran stopped manufacturing "Scuds" and started creation of its own "Shahab," the main components of which are based on the Russian analogues.

In Spite of Washington

In parallel with establishing its own ability to manufacture missiles, Iran attempted to import missile equipment from Russia. The first contract for delivery of such Russian equipment to Tehran was signed in November 1989 (a half year after Khomeini`s death). Iran received two anti-aircraft S-200VE "Vega" missile systems. The following military agreements signed in the nineties, which included various kinds of missile technologies and equipment, were not fulfilled because of Tehran`s financial difficulties. The next roadblock to the promotion of the Iran-Russia military cooperation was the signing of the Russian-American Memorandum of Gore – Chernomirdin in June 1995. Moscow committed to cease all military deliveries to Teheran by the end of 1999 and also to curtail any cooperation with Islamic Republic in this sphere. However, it took Russia less than a year to go back on its word and to abandon the Memorandum unilaterally. "Common Russian and Iranian geopolitical interests" – such was the thesis explaining the Kremlin's reasoning for the decision. Contracts and agreements on military deliveries, including missile technologies, totaling more than $4 billion, were signed during Russian Minister of Defense Igor Sergeev`s visit to Iran in December 2000.

Missiles for Ayatollas

Russia is considered to be the main partner in the modernization program of the Iranian armed forces. Consequently, the Islamic republic is the world's third largest client of the Russian arms industry, after China and India. Recently, Iran purchased Russian-made anti-aircraft missile complexes of a large radius, S-300PMY and S-300PMY-2 (SA-10 Grumble), and anti-aircraft complexes of a small radius, Tor - М1 (SA-15 Gauntlet). Iran has declared readiness to purchase both anti-aircraft complexes Buk- М1 (SA-11 Gadfly) and tactical short-range ballistic missiles Iskander-E. Representatives of the Islamic Republic have shown interest also in the surface-to-air gun/missile systems Tunguska-M and Pantsyr (modifications of SA-19 Grison) produced by the Russian military-industrial complex.

The "Shahab" Project

According to the Tehran newspaper "Aftabe Yazd," in May, 2002 Iran began batch production of the "Shahab -3" missile. This missile is capable of reaching any target in Israel and in most countries of the Middle East, having a range of 1500 km and carrying a warhead of up to one ton. Since its completion, Iranians have been modernizing it to increase its range. The " Shahab -3" was publicly shown for the first time during the military parade in honor of the Day of the Iranian Army on April 18, 2003. The fourth generation of "Shahab" entered the final testing stage in 2000, having a range of 2000-2200 km. This missile already constitutes a threat to European targets.

In 2001, the Western military periodical press noted that Iranian missile developers had received an order for the fifth - intercontinental – "Shahab" model, with a range of up to 10 thousand km., capable of hitting the American East Coast.

The sudden unexplained death in July 2003 of the leading Iranian engineer behind the "Shahab" missiles, A. M. Mehmand, hampered the development of the project. The same year Tehran officially announced its suspension of this missile program to demonstrate its "defensive character". However, in April, 2005 the chief of Israeli military intelligence, Aharon Zeevi Farkash, claimed that Iran continues development of the fourth and fifth generations of the "Shahab" ("Ediot Ahronot", 29.04.05).

The CIA has repeatedly produced reports on the full-scale Russian assistance in all stages of the Iranian missile program. Under US pressure, Russia has promised more than once to minimize its involvement. Nevertheless, western and Israeli sources claim that such statements are just empty promises.

Targeting Washington?

The Iranian missile program is considered, first and foremost, to be threatening Israel. This opinion is based on Tehran's proclaimed strategic goal - destruction of the Jewish state. It was literally confirmed most recently by one of the closet colleagues of the religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenai - his personal representative at the "Shahids Fund" – Mohammad Hassan Rahimiyan. He declared that Iranian Shahids are ready to continue the struggle for destruction of Israel and America (Iranian news agency " Fars ", April 20, 2005).

At the same time, the head of Israeli military intelligence is convinced that the USA is the main target of the Iranian missiles. This is obvious, in his opinion, because to attack Israel Iran does not need to develop missiles with a range of 10 thousand km. since the distance between the two countries is hardly more than 1000 km.

Thus, participation of Moscow in the Iranian missile program poses the greatest threat not to Israel, but to Russia's traditional geopolitical opponent - the United States of America.

The Russian Shield of Tehran

Iran recently purchased modern anti-aircraft defense complexes in Russia, which are intended for protection of the major Iranian nuclear objects from the American or Israeli attack. Islamic Republic has received several upgraded S-300 complexes and that became a reason for serious American diplomatic demarches. To soften the disagreements, Moscow refused to sell a large batch of portable anti-aircraft missiles "Igla - 1М" (SA-18 Grouse) to Tehran. Iran had to buy Chinese "Tzianvay" - made by the Russian license on the basis of the "Igla".

Iranian Future Purchase List
  • Tehran mulls the procurement in 2005-2006 of several Russian military products:
  • anti-ship missiles "Mosquito" of ground and air basing,
  • anti-ship missile complexes "Yahont-E" (according to the Russian laws the export variant of both missiles it is not capable to carry nuclear warheads),
  • Cruise missiles "Club",
  • anti-radar missiles with extended range,
  • Guided missiles to increase the efficiency of the Russian-made Sy-24 МК bombers constituting the basis of the Iranian Air Forces,
  • Modern air-to-air missiles for Russian-made MiG-29 delivered to the Iranian Army.