Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Iran’s new Ashoura missile – a new piece of magic?

On Tuesday Iran once again claimed to have a new superior weapon system. This time it is the Ashoura missile. The name refers to the day of the holy mourning ceremony marking the martyrdom of Shiite Imam Hossein.

Iran claims that the Ashoura missile matches the range of the Shahab-3, which has previously been viewed as the country’s longest range missile. However, the Iranian Defense Minister, Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar, did not say how the two missiles differ from each other.

According to Reuters, Mark Fitzpatrick, a weapons expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said the Ashoura was probably a longer range version of the Shahab-3 and said, since 2005, there had been evidence Iran was working on a new model. "I think it's a pretty strong likelihood that Iran has received technology that has extended the range of their missiles, and maybe the development of a whole new missile with a longer range," he said.

Western intelligence sources, as reported by Jane’s, consider the Ashoura to be a new, indigenously developed two-stage ballistic missile. Its body is identical to that of the Shahab-3, and therefore the Ashoura could utilize the Shahab launchers and infrastructure. In contrast to the liquid-fueled Shahab-type missiles, however, the Ashoura is solid-fueled which gives it a major time advantage.

Some weapons Iran says are home-made are based on equipment supplied by China and North Korea or modifications of U.S. arms bought before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Western experts say. Jane’s reports further that the situation with the Ashoura is different: it bears no resemblance to any of the DPRK’s missiles.

Former Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh boasts that now Iran does not only threaten Israel, but European capitals and Moscow as well. France also expressed concerns:“This news is a cause of concern for us, and it illustrates the need to be extremely vigilant with regard to Iran's actions and intentions,” said French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Pascale Andreani. Others are not fully convinced by the threat level: "Iran likes to make declarations on its new rockets that are invisible, make no detectable sounds and cannot be detected by any means. They have done it many times. Tehran is giving a magnificent gift to the Americans who are using them to justify the deployment of their missile defense system in Europe," Alexander Khramchikhin, head of the analytical department in the Russian Political and Military Analysis Institute told the Interfax News Agency.

The introduction of the Ashoura missile adds additional confusion to questions about the Iranian missile arsenal: the Shahab-3 was initially assumed to have a range of 2,000 km, some even expect it to range as far as 2,500 km. Yet during an Iranian military parade in September this year it was said to have only a 1,300-kilometer range. AFP reports, that at the same parade, Iran unveiled the Ghadr-1 (Power), which was said to have a range of 1,800 kilometers. AFP continues:

Some Western military experts claimed that the Ghadr-1 was no more than a Shahab-3 under a different name. It has the "baby bottle" style nose for extra aerodynamic efficiency seen on versions of the Shahab-3. […]

[Minister of Defense] Najjar added to the confusion on Tuesday by saying Iran was developing Ghadr missiles that would also have a range of 2,000 kilometres.

The NTI Newswire reports on conflicting information and comes up with different figures: Military officials first said the Shahab-3 missile had a 1,800-kilometer range, but it was said to have only a 1,300-kilometer range when it shown off at the parade in September.

Stratfor has a very handy map showing the range of the Shahab-3 and the Ashoura missiles:


The Ashoura would indeed significantly increase Iran’s missile capabilities, both in terms of range and reduced launch-time. However, only the missile tests will show, whether it again falls under the category “magic”, that was described by Alexander Khramchikhin described as invisible, non-detectible and non-audible, or if it is really able to significantly impact the security of the region and beyond.

Top image © AFP

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