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Iran Missile Test: Vagueness of Detail Leads to Wild Speculation

By Steve Schippert | March 31, 2006

There are many sources of coverage regarding Iran’s announcement of a successful test of something ‘ballistic’ and the rapid-fire speculation brought on by Iran’s vagueness ranges from a Katyusha enhancement to the Shahab family of missiles (from the Shahab-3 to the Shahab-6). See the varying descriptions from the Washington Post, Forbes and UK Times Online.

First, some things to consider.

This is likely by Iranian design and they are probably enjoying the frenzied show and speculation. General Salami's apparently cryptic words leave much to speculation and conjecture. This surely is not an accident.

Also, if it were indeed an ICBM MIRV test, as first interpreted by this observer, NORAD already knows and it would likely would have found its way into the press by this point in time, though not guaranteed. There is yet to be a report indicating NORAD (or theater-based) launch detection.

The Forbes-supplied AP report paraphrases Gen. Hossein Salami, the air force chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, regarding the ‘multiple warhead’ aspect, yet directly quoted him regarding its low radar signature.

"It can avoid anti-missile missiles and strike the target," Salami said.

He said the missile would carry a multiple warhead, and each warhead would be capable of hitting its target precisely.

Consider now the Washington Post report.

"This technology is completely new, without copying any other missile systems that may exist in other countries," he said, adding that the missile could carry multiple warheads.

Again, no direct quote. The only direct quote ThreatsWatch has seen yet, which seems to come from the same statement that the previous paraphrasing comes from, has been provided by a very early Reuters report.

"This missile, with the capacity of evading radar, can attack several targets simultaneously," he said, adding the missile was newly developed.

Now we are down to semantics and, necessarily, Farsi interpretation skills of unknown interpreters. Here’s why:

“Evading radar” can be achieved with the right coating material, paint if you will. To what degree it’s radar signature is minimal is unknown (as are a lot of details).

Again relying on interpretation, when General Salami says “This missile”, he may in fact be referring to the missile ‘system’ and not an individual ballistic device. This opens up the more likely scenario of an Iranian MLRS development rather than a MIRV ICBM development, which is significantly more difficult to achieve. Remember that the Chinese could not even develop this ability until they lifted the information from Los Alamos National Laboratories. We are to believe then that either Iran did this alone better than China or that China (or Russia) gave them the ‘Keys to the Ballistic Kingdom’?

An MLRS system can be (and American systems are) designed for each rocket in an MLRS volley to be independently guided post-launch. This would allow a ‘missile system’ to do what Salami said, which is simply to engage multiple targets.

See: Iranian MLRS Artillery Rocket Systems

Next is the over-analysis of Salami’s use of the word ‘ballistic’. From the UK Times article:

Iranian television described the new weapon as a "ballistic" missile, suggesting it was of comparable range to Iran’s existing ballistic rocket, the Shahab-3, which can travel 2,000 km (1,250 miles) and reach Israel and US bases in the Middle East. The Shahab-3 is also capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

Others noted this as well, and experts were quoted in many articles regarding ‘ballistic’ missiles and concern about a potential new Iranian ICBM.

Again, there is no word from anyone in the region or NORAD of the detection of a launch of anything generally considered a ‘ballistic’ missile. Someone likely would have declared by now if that were the case.

Also, bear in mind that a 5.56mm NATO ball round is a ballistic projectile also, and they are launched from the M-16’s carried by nearly every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine. So, again, it could be semantics. Any projectile that travels in an arced path is considered ‘ballistic’, though that term has a very specific meaning in missile and missile defense circles. That fact may not have been lost on General Salami when the term was used.

The guys at Q and O Blog probably got it about right early on in the day: For use against ships indeed. Remember that this apparent test came on the opening day of Iran's massive naval exercise in the Persian Gulf.

Essentially, until there is a verification of a ‘ballistic’ launch detection, this could be smoke without a fire, at least without a MIRV ICBM fire, as is being speculated currently. And, if they did produce such a missile, is Iran going to indigenously produce their first nuclear warhead small enough to fit several of them on one missile?

At this point, two things are needed: A full transcript of General Salami’s words and a ‘ballistic’ launch detection verification.

Believe such a missile exists when the test is detected. Not when an IRGC General loosely alludes to one.

3 Comments

After spending some time this morning chasing down many of the same false leads as you, I reached a similar conclusion - the information provided so far does not add up. As I said in my post on the topic, "Some reports continue to assert this is a "ballistic" missile, but I don't think the description of its intended targets supports that description. I am waiting for the video clip that was shown on Iranian TV to become available."

I’m afraid that you’ve been led down the wrong path. I am a Persian speaker and have watched the video (linked to below) of Brigadier Salami’s announcement on Iranian TV.

Firstly, to suggest that Iranian TV would be interrupted for the GOC of the IRGC Air Force to make a special announcement that Iran has developed cluster munitions (ignoring the fact that Iran has had the capability to produce these for several years) is silly.

So what was the announcement about? It relates to the testing of “one new missile” (found at 0:44) to mark the start of the latest naval wargame. So, contrary to your speculation, the wording makes it very unlikely that this was a test of a MLRS. As you can see, the announcement is interspersed with shot of Shahab-like missiles being launched, which further confirms that this was a ballistic missile test. Indeed, Salami makes it clear that the advance is in relation to the capability of the warhead rather than the development of a particular missile and that the technology can be used in other missiles.

You also expressed some doubt as to whether the missile is MRVd. You state that Brigadier Salami was paraphrased regarding the “multiple warhead” aspect. In fact, Salami uses the English phrase “multiple warhead” when referring to the missile (found at 1:04). As far as I know, the term “multiple warhead” is used only in relation to ballistic missiles, not cruise missiles and certainly not rocket artillery. Further, it makes no sense for Salami to refer to the missile’s ability to evade anti-missile missiles if this was a rocket artillery system.

I should also point out that Iran often uses the same name for several weapon systems to create confusion (and it appears to have done so on this occasion). Names like “Saeqeh”, “Ra’ad” and “Zolfaghar” have been used to refer to different weapons in the past and now it seems “Fajr” has been used to refer to both a MLRS and a ballistic missile.

There is no reference to targeting ships throughout the announcement. In any case, Iran already has several potent anti-ship cruise missile systems.

www.iribnews.ir/PhotoGallery/Photo/_cb8c833c-55a3-4546-8ce5-b43ca9959cf3.wmv

there is a lot of rampant speculation and very little hard fact available.

what is definite is that a high-level commander of the iranian revolutionary guards is making almost daily public statements about "top secret" new weapons.

in light of iran's situation vis-a-vis the west and the united nations, such obvious sabre-rattling can either be domestic propaganda to brace the troops for the upcoming conflict, or export material to bluff a potential enemy. and the readily available english-language reports would point to the latter.

either way, a poker player with 4 aces rarely needs to make these kinds of announcements.