Iran has tested a high accuracy intermediate range ballistic missile, reportedly capable of a range of 2000 km and an accuracy of eight meters. This test comes two months after a similar test in March.
These specifications would put it among the world’s most accurate IRBMs. Even without a nuclear payload, a missile like this could hit any target in the Middle East with sufficient accuracy to be relevant in a military, and not just political context.
Iran has done a lot of experimentation in the field of missiles and has acquired technology from a variety of sources. Based on the range, the missile is either a Shahab-3, Sejil, Gadhr-1 or Shahab-4. Each of these missiles have a range of around 2000 km.
I have serious doubts about the stated accuracy of the missile. Even the American Pershing II with it’s terminal radar guidance only achieved a 50 meter CEP. Russia’s new The SS-26 SRBM achieves similar accuracy. An Iranian IRBM, mostly based on North Korean technology achieving CEP smaller than the latest American and Russian tactical missiles is simply unbelievable, especially considering that they do not have access to precision guidance systems like GPS or GLONASS.
This kind of accuracy could be achieved with the use of Chinese guidance systems, but there is currently no confirmation that China has provided such components to Tehran. Even then, no ballistic missile I know of has achieved a CEP less than 10 meters. Clearly the number was either fabricated or mistranslated.
The legality of these tests is contested. While the JCPOA (the nuclear deal) has put at least a temporary stop to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the deal does not cover delivery systems like missiles. While there are UN resolutions in place to halt such testing, enforcement is much less clear cut. Iran claims that the missiles are designed to carry non-nuclear payloads and are therefore not effected by the resolutions.
This is more of a rhetorical argument rather than a military one. Nuclear and conventional delivery systems are interchangeable. For instance the American Tomahawk and ACM-86 cruise missiles can be fitted with either nuclear or conventional warheads. If Iran someday did manage to build a nuclear bomb the issue would be the missile’s payload capacity and range; not the original warhead and particular nosecone fitted to the missile.
Although so-called moderates won a majority recent Iranian elections, Ayatollah Khamenei still retains control of the nation’s military.Iran conducted a similar launch In March, when they fired a missile with the words “Israel must be wiped off the earth” written on it in Hebrew. Rouhani has eschewed such rhetoric saying it damages peace and stability. This has not however, stopped the tests.
Provocations like these tests are certainly aimed at internal competitors like Rouhani, as well as regional adversaries like Israel, Saudi Arabia and America, which has bases all over the Middle East. It is clear saber rattling meant primarily for political, rather than military, effect. In this way, it is very reminiscent of North Korea’s weapons testing program.
As the struggle for influence goes on inside Iran and region, expect more missile launches. This problem isn’t going away anytime soon.