Search Penny Hill Press

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Iran’s Ballistic Missile and Space Launch Programs

Steven A. Hildreth
Specialist in Missile Defense

Iran has long been a source of concern for the United States and other countries because its goals are at odds with core U.S. objectives in the Middle East. Although it is not certain that Iran has made the decision to develop a nuclear weapon, it is taking steps to drastically reduce the time needed to obtain nuclear weapons should a decision be made to do so. It is the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon mated to an effective missile delivery capability that is especially worrisome to most.

Congress has long been interested in these matters. Congress has held numerous hearings on Iran, passed various resolutions regarding Iran and approved a range of sanctions against Iran over the past several decades.

According to the U.S. government, Iran has the largest number of ballistic missiles in the Middle East; it is developing missiles and space launch vehicles for multiple purposes. Iran is pursuing its missile and space programs with development and testing facilities that are scattered throughout the country. Assessing Iran’s ballistic missile programs is challenging for many reasons, including the lack of specificity in official public sources, the secretive nature of Iran’s regime and the regime’s frequent exaggerations of its ballistic missile capabilities, and the overwhelming amount of and often conflicting information found in non-official sources.

The vast majority of Iran’s heavy artillery rockets and ballistic missiles are short-range of less than about 500 kilometers. Most of Iran’s ballistic missiles in fact are Scud-B and Scud-Cs, with a majority likely being Scud Cs, which are 500 km range capable. Iran views its short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) capability as necessary for battlefield and tactical military purposes. These missiles could not strike U.S. or allied bases in the region unless they were moved far from their operating base and launched from vulnerable positions along Iran’s Persian Gulf coastline. This is not likely because of logistical and operational security reasons. Although these SRBMs are not very accurate, they could be fired against economic or civilian targets. Also, any such missile attacks against U.S. bases, while not militarily decisive, could disrupt or complicate (but not halt) base operations.

Iran has grown increasingly self-sufficient in the production of SRBMs, but it still probably relies on others for some key components. Gaining access to these kinds of critical components and materials has grown increasingly difficult for Iran. Stricter international enforcement of export controls and broadening sanctions have reportedly slowed down Iran’s efforts and forced Iran to find less reliable alternative sources of rocket and missile technology.

Iran is developing and producing medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) capabilities with ranges estimated up to about 2,000 kilometers (with some non-U.S. government sources citing slightly higher ranges), sufficient to strike targets throughout the Middle East. U.S. intelligence assessments state such missiles are inherently capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. Although the number of Iran’s MRBMs is thought to be relatively small by official U.S. estimates, it is expected to continue to build more capable MRBMs. Iran views these missiles as an important deterrent and retaliatory force against U.S. and other forces in the region in the event of war. Iran has also constructed an underground network of bunkers and underground silo-like missile launch facilities, and is seeking improved air defenses presumably to enhance the survivability of their MRBMs against preemptive attack.

Date of Report: December 6, 2012
Number of Pages: 71
Order Number: R42849
Price: $29.95

To Order:

R42849.pdf  to use the SECURE SHOPPING CART


Phone 301-253-0881

For email and phone orders, provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.