Sooner Rather Than Later: Iranian Shahab-6 ICBM

UPDATED 30 JANUARY 2007

By Sean Osborne, Associate Director, Military Affairs

27 January 2007: According to a pre-release article by Craig Covault, the upcoming 29 January 2007 issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine will reveal that Iran has converted it’s North Korean-cloned Shabhab-3 Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile into a satellite launch vehicle. According to a strategic analysis done by GlobalSecurity.Org, Iran conducted a successful test of its large IRIS solid propellant rocket motor in mid-2005. If these assessments are accurate, and there is no reason at this point to dismiss them, then the beast sitting on an Iranian launch pad today may very well be proof of the existence of Iran’s Shahab-6 Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile. The Shahab-6 is a weapon system specifically designed and capable of delivering an Iranian nuclear warhead to virtually anywhere on earth. It is a virtual clone of the North Korean Taepo-Dong 2C/3 ICBM which allegedly failed in a much publicized test in July 2006.

This technological leap is nothing less than stunning. Just twenty-two months ago, on March 17, 2005, the Director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, made public a statement for the record to the Senate Armed Service Committee,

“We judge Iran will have the technical capability to develop an ICBM by 2015. It is not clear whether Iran has decided to field such a missile.”

Such an astounding technological leap makes the sudden appearance of the Soviet Union’s orbiting Sputnik satellite in October 1957 absolutely pale in comparison. A little further back in the same text we read,

Iran is likely continuing nuclear weapon-related endeavors in an effort to become the dominant regional power and deter what it perceives as the potential for US or Israeli attacks. We judge Iran is devoting significant resources to its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs”

As referenced above, and based upon the physical reality sitting on an Iranian launch pad this morning, it would appear that the overall sum of the significant resources invested by Iran has more than adequately funded the long-term missile proliferation and advanced technology transfer programs of Red China, Russia, Pakistan, North Korea, as well as a few western nations. These technology transfers have enabled Iran to leap-frog at least 8 years worth of indigenous development, as well as prove totally inaccurate - if not make a complete mockery of - the best official, unclassified intelligence assessment from the U.S. Government yet made public about Iranian missile capabilities. In fact, such a flawed assessment brings into serious doubt the assessment regarding Iranian nuclear weapons progress.

I have been reading the 2004 assessment done by Aharon Etengoff, editor of the website weaponssurvey.com, titled “2004 Middle East Nuclear Update”. This outstanding assessment by Etengoff, a former staffer with the IDF Spokesmen’s Office, covers both nuclear and missile developments for a host of Middle Eastern nations, including Iran. It is based upon open source intelligence (OSINT) media reporting. Within the past three years and having read these same OSINT reports (I read copious amounts of such data 24/7/365), and I arrived at the same assessments and have so stated them publicly and privately, as well as on this website. This document should be reviewed in its entirety by all interested parties.

Among some of the nuclear-related information within this body of research is the following gem. “In February 2004, media reports indicated that IAEA inspectors had discovered traces of polonium-210, an element that can be used as neutron initiator in certain designs of nuclear weapons.”

In light of recent events, the purposes and/or recent uses of this highly radioactive substance have been discussed by the Northeast Intelligence Network at length. Note the discovery of Polonium-210 in Iran occurred nearly three years ago. Since Iran is not known to possess a working nuclear reactor or particle accellerator - where from did Iran acquire this Polonium-210? Obviously, a nuclear materials proliferator. Russia, Red China, North Korea or even the AQ Khan nuclear proliferation network run from within Pakistan are not likely to confess to such transfers, but they are without question the most probable sources. Combine this knowledge with the nuclear weapon plutonium core to be produced at Iran’s Khondab heavy-water reactor in Arak, or highly enriched uranium (HEU), and know that its destiny lies in a warhead perched atop an Iranian Shahab-6 ICBM.

Regarding advanced missile technology proliferation Etengoff provides us with the following paragraph, an exceptional compilation of OSINT data. The bottom line assessment of this paragraph is exactly correct and the focus of this article.

In October 2001, John Kyl, the ranking Republican on the Senate Sub-Committee on Technology, stated that China was providing Iran with the technology to mount nuclear warheads on missiles. In October 2002, Haâaretz reported that North Korea was testing long-range missiles in Iran, and in June 2003, U.S. intelligence officials disclosed that North Korea was exporting missiles to Iran via air routes. In July 2003, an Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman confirmed that Iran had successfully conducted the final test of its Shahab 3 medium-range missile. In August 2003, a Japanese newspaper reported that North Korea was negotiating with Iran over the export of its Taepodong-2 long-range ballistic missile and the possibility of jointly developing nuclear warheads. In January 2004, the Iranian Defense Minister stated that Iran intended to become “the first Islamic country to find a way into the space beyond the Earth’s atmosphere with its own satellite and indigenous launch-system. It should be noted that such a launch-system would be equivalent to long-range intercontinental ballistic missile capability, and would serve as a ‘civilian’ cover for an advanced weapons system.”

Indeed it would. And now, according to the chairman of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, Mr. Alaoddin Boroujerdi, the obviously dual-purpose launch vehicle sitting on the Iranian launch pad “will liftoff soon”. Sooner rather than later the Iranian Shahab-6 ICBM is close to becoming a reality. As twin American armadas of surface and sub-surface naval combatants approach the Persian Gulf region, I just have to wonder, is an Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) cruiser or destroyer among the surface combatants? Interesting thought nonetheless. The fact is that the policy of the United States is that Iran will not be joining the ranks of nuclear weapons capable states - ever. Can we assume that the delivery vehicles of such Iranian weapons will be allowed to exist in 2007, or at least retarded long enough to fit the current 2015 DIA guesstimate? Stay tuned.

UPDATE

The full Aviation Week & Space Technology article went up yesterday. With the development of this payload launch capability no ambiguity remains whatsoever regarding Iran’s hell bent quest for a global nuclear first strike capability.

But this is not the sum total of Iranian offensive nuclear desires. As the AW&ST article notes, and as DefenseNews.com reported in December 2005, Iran reportedly acquired a total of 18 North Korean BM-25 ballistic missiles. According to some data I have seen, the BM-25 is a land mobile variant of the ex-Soviet submarine-launched nuclear missile, variously known as the SS-N-6 (NATO NAME: Serb) or R-27 (Raketa 27). The SS-N-6 was a nuclear first-strike capable missile deployed on Soviet Yankee-class ballistic missile submarines which routinely parked themselves in deep water off the US east coast. The SS-N-6/R-27 came in three variants. Variants 1 and 2 carried a single nuclear warhead with a 600 kiloton to 1 megaton yield. Variant 3 was a MIRV, or multiple, independent re-entry vehicle, which had three nuclear warheads of approximately 450 kilotons each.

Citing a German BND intelligence source the German newspaper Bild, reported that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad decided the range of the reconfigured Iranian variant of the BM-25 was to be increased from 800 miles to more than 2,000 miles. Here we find a strong clue to the greater scope of the Iranian effort.

First, let me say that I do not believe that the”satellite launcher” sitting on the Iranian launch pad is a BM-25. In analysis of all pertinent data I note that the length of a BM-25/SS-N-6 is just 31 feet and it weighs 14.2 tons. Remember, it was designed to be launched from a submarine. What is apparently on the Iranian launch pad is at least 100 feet in length and reportedly weighs an estimated 25 to 30 tons. Iran says “satellite launcher”, I say ICBM.

However, regarding the BM-25, and as acknowledged by former Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld, Iran has conducted exploratory ballistic missile tests by firing them while at sea from the hold of what appears to be an ordinary cargo freighter. The new Iranian variant of the BM-25 missile when fitted into the hull of an Iranian freighter would be a doomsday, first strike weapon system not very different in mission objective than that of the Soviet missile submarines parked off the US east coast.

Theoretically speaking, Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad’s plan to increase the BM-25’s range to over 2,000 miles would make sense in that Iran would be able, with little or no warning, to target anywhere in the USA with a 600 kT to 1 MT nuclear warhead, if launched from such an Iranian cargo freighter in the vicinity of Cuba, and the entire eastern half of the USA if launched from the vicinity of Venezuela. In this capacity such a weapon system is meant to start a war.