Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Shahab-3D, IRIS

© Charles P. Vick 2007 All Rights Reserved

February 01, 2007


The opinions and evaluations stated here in are only the authors and cannot be construed to reflect those of any Government agency, company, institute or association. It is based on public information, circumstantial evidence, informed speculation, declassified U.S. intelligence community documents, official Iranian and North Korean government documents and histories, oral histories, interviews and reverse engineering analysis. As with all data regarding the Iranian and North Korean strategic space and ballistic missile programs, this analysis is subject to revision--and represents a work in progress.

Shahab-3D Appearance?

The Shahab-3D is not the Shahab-3 nor is it the original Iranian Shahab-4 design, better known as the North Korean Taep'o-dong-1/NKSL-1 which has a range of 1,240 miles (1,995.16 km) but is perhaps one of several other possibilities. The Iranian statement that the Shahab-3D was powered by both liquid and solid propellant suggest that this is indeed a different missile design from the Shahab-3 which is known to be based on the North Korean No-dong-A design a single stage liquid propellant ballistic missile. It is also known that the Shahab-3 single engine is started by a solid propellant cartage that is expended ever before lift off. This however does not explain the introduction of solid propellant on this launch vehicle variant. This indication of the presence of solid propellant suggest the introduction of the Iranian "IRIS" so called satellite launch vehicle or at least its precursor sounding rocket for the Iranian space program "IRIS" launch vehicle. Potentially the IRIS launch vehicle combination could also serve as an (ASAT) anti-satellite launch vehicle.

To date the only imagery publicly released of the Shahab-3, 3D flight tests by Iran has all been shown from the same position on the same facility. This brings into question whether it is the same video from the same first test launch of Shahab-3 since it is known that none of the launches have come from the same facility verses the Shahab-3D which is known to have been launched from a different space launch facility. This video does however reveal that the Shahab-3 requires many additional support vehicles for propellant transport and loading and power besides its Transport Erector Launcher (TEL) and command and control vehicles. A through review of the existing publicly available video has revealed that Iran has only shown the same first flight of the Shahab-3 video repeatedly on its news programs. No TV video of the Shahab-3D launch has been identified as of this writing. It is also interesting to note that only one flight test of the design apparently took place and it was a failure on September 21, 2000. Since no further flights have occurred through early 2007 it apparently has become a dropped program undergoing considerable rethink.

However, it is known that the Shahab-3, North Korea's No-Dong-A is not capable of covering all of Israel but modified perhaps with a lighter warhead and or an additional small solid motor could extend that range to accomplish that mission. The source of the solid motor technology for the Shahab-4, 5, & 6 is in all probability China through a "Know How", technology transfer agreement requested by Iran.

Iran's IRIS Launch Vehicle Variant Heritage

Iran's Overall Launch Vehicle Development Heritage

IRIS - The First Possible Appearance of "IRIS"/IRSL-X-1 Space Booster?

There is however another possibility that may not have been considered for Shahab-3D. Iran is committed to the development of the space booster "IRIS". The IRIS launch vehicle apparently consists of the No-dong -A/Shahab-3, 3A or 3B first stage with a bulbous front section ultimately designed to carry an additional second stage solid motor as well as a communications satellite or scientific payload.

The IRIS launch vehicle is a space related derivation of the Shahab-3 class ballistic missile. A launch vehicle of this configuration is ideal as a vertical probe sounding rocket for ballistic missile warhead re-entry vehicle development. Whether this vehicle has subsequently been flown in country for re-entry warhead development that has been unreported is unknown. It would almost certainly not be capable of launching a satellite of appreciable mass or capability unless it were intended to be a second and third stage of a larger launch vehicle. If the Shahab-3D launch was an IRIS launch vehicle test, then it was the first flight test of the Taep’o-dong-2 A/Shahab-5, 6 second and third stages part of a space booster concept that Iran is said to be developing. The IRIS launch vehicle concept was first seen on public displays in model form in an Iranian aerospace show. This flight test failure on September 21, 2000 may have caused a serious delay in the development program for the Taep’o-dong-2 A/Shahab-5, 6 launch vehicle program. It could very well have contributed to the ultimate decision to abandon the original Taep’o-dong-2A design in favor of the Taep’o-dong-2C/3 re-design launch vehicle.

Presumably a ballistic missile version of this could also be developed which may explain the Shahab-3D variant. The description of a Solid propellant upper stage on top of a know No-dong -A/Shahab-3 design certainly fits the IRIS displayed design but the addition of two strap-on solid motors could also add to its performance. It is not unusual for a nation in the earlier years of their launch vehicle development to flight test the upper stages of a new booster as a testing procedure that has been used in both the East and West to expedite the development of a future larger space booster before flying the entire stack. Today it is generally favored to fly the entire stacked launch vehicle to expedite its development. There have also been some suggestions that the two stage Shahab-3D/IRIS launch vehicle that appears to be abandoned with no flight test successfully carried out or identified, would be reworked into a satellite launch vehicle in spite of it only having a sounding rocket or ASAT capability

The Shahab-3D does however very strongly resemble the North Korean Taep'o-dong-2 second and third stages concept. Could it be that the Shahab-3D is in-fact a modified variant of the IRIS space related booster undergoing its first flight test? Is this in-turn Iran 's contribution to North Korea 's Taep'o-dong-2 A space booster ballistic missile program and their Shahab-5 space booster or ballistic missile? To a degree it could suggest that Iran is working on the second and third stages of the Taep'o-dong-2 A launch vehicle with North Korea while they both have apparently made contributions to the larger new Taep'o-dong-2 first stage. Recently North Korea static test fired that new first stage on the rebuilt Taep'o-dong-1 now Taep'o-dong-2 launch pad, gantry umbilical tower facility between June 26 and July 2, 2001. The subsequent flight test of the Taep'o-dong-2C/3 class booster on July 4/5, 2006 would seem to suggest that the earlier concepts of the Taep'o-dong-2A has been abandoned in favor of the redesigned launch vehicle. This is some five years after the fact when the Taep'o-dong-2 class booster should have been flight test in the 2002-2004 time frames. This strongly suggests that the Taep'o-dong-2 program was totally redirected.

Why Iran built both a No-dong-A and No-dong-B static test stand battleship models for missile developed in North Korea indicates the possibility that both North Korea and Iran worked on those propulsion systems together pooling their resources. See the following url's for those test stands:



It is known that the Shahab-3D failed shortly after launch. This was well before the first stage would have completed its 115 seconds burn when the aerodynamic shroud would have been jettisoned and the solid motor second stage would have spun up and ignited regardless of its true design configuration and the actual payload flown. Presently that is unclear based on the available public information released to date. In general IRIS it was believed at the time to be waiting for Shahab-5 to fulfill its real goal.

Build-up and Flight Test Analysis

The week before the September 8, 2000 Iran attempted to launch the new variant of the Shahab-3 ballistic missile the Shahab-3D missile but apparently had some trouble during the attempts build up as noted in The Washington Times on September 8, 2000 ---"delayed from the previous week "---. ---"test expected later this month"---.(1)

On September 22, 2000 both the Associated Press and the Washington Times noted the following new information: "Iran has successfully test-fired its first solid-liquid fueled missile, which the Defense Minister said was part of a program for launching satellites, ----." (2) The Washington Times added that the Iranian had tested the Shahab-3 MRBM for a third time, but that "the rocket exploded shortly after liftoff, U. S. Intelligence officials said .." "Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani told the official IRNA News Agency that the test of the Shahab-3D-----". The Iranian spokesman went on to say that the missile was "solid and liquid fueled" and will be used only for launching communications satellites and not warheads."(3)

Jane's Intelligence Review on Sept. 21 also noted the following that, the Sept. 21, 2000 flight test was a failure according to U. S. officials. It was flown from near the city of Semnan. (4) The description of this Shahab-3D launch failure certainly suggest that the Iranians are having considerable development trouble with their domestically produced Shahab-3 liquid propellant engines and or their related systems. This same kind of engine or engine related systems failure along with instrumentation and or guidance failure could also account for the first Shahab-3 launch failure. In almost all cases they give hints of serious quality control problems leading to in flight launch failure during the first stage engine burn.

On September 21, 2000 during testimony before the U.S. Senate Mr. Walpole National Intelligence officer for Strategic and nuclear programs discussed the Shahab-3D first launch. (http://www.fas.org/irp/congress/2000_hr/hr_092100.html)

Mr. Walpole " Iran's Defense minister announced the Shahab-4, originally calling it a more capable ballistic missile than the Shahab-3, but later categorizing it as a space launch vehicle with no military applications.

Tehran also mentioned plans for the Shahab-5 strongly suggesting that it intends to develop even longer-range systems in the near future.

Iran has displayed a mock-up satellite and space launch vehicle (IRIS), suggesting it plans to develop a vehicle to orbit Iranian satellites------- Most believe that Iran could develop and test a three-stage Taep'o-dong-2 type ICBM during this same time frame, possibly with North Korean assistance. -----ICBM booster capability and that a Taep'o-dong-type system tested as a space launch vehicle would be the shortest path to that goal.

TD-1 could be developed patterned after the NK approach or use it as a test bed to TD-2 etc. TD-1 is the test bed for the TD-2 larger technology.

Iran is insisting on the development of an indigenous effort, which takes longer to develop.

Sen. Cochran, "As we have said in open session before, Iran procured No-dong and then sought Russian assistance to modify that into the Shahab-3, which is a little different approach than Pakistan used to get the Ghauri, which is also a No-dong. They did not mind trying to change it. They just decided to change its name and buy them outright." (5)

Shahab-3D/IRIS Concept & Solid Propellant Program Advances

Iran’s missile solid propellant rocket motor program was not believed at that time in 2000 to be advanced enough compared to its liquid fuel rocket engine program, launch vehicle program to provide much more than strap on solid motors or upper and last stage satellite orbit injection solid motor for launch vehicles. This is based on the examples of the Naze’at-6 (NP-110), Naze’at-10 (NP-110A), Zelzel-1 (Mushak-100), Zelzel-2 (Mushak-200), and Fateh-110/110A. This solid motor program is known to be years behind the liquid propellant program but it is making systematic deliberate and critical strides that will eventually bring it up to IRBM, ICBM potential. Today in 2007 Iran's solid motor program is far more advanced than it was back in 2000. Iran is believed during the year 2000 to have started the development of a new multi-stage solid propellant motor based Ghadr-101, and Ghadr-110, which may be an Iranian variant on the Shaheen-1, and Shaheen-II design of Pakistan. This advance is presumably thanks to the A. Q. Khan network, which in turn can thank China for its M-9, M-18 technology. Iran has finished the development of the Ghadr-101 with its 800-1,500-2,000 kilometer range with deployment to follow. It is now starting the ground testing for the Ghadr-110, 110A with its 2,000-2,500 & 3,000 km range capability depending on the payload mass, similar to or much better than that of the Shahab-3 class performance, that could lead to other significant potential developments. This is because Iran announced in late May/early June 2005 that it had successfully tested the new larger solid motor associated with this program. If this solid motors or multi-stage solid motors can indeed perform to this level, then it suggest that Iran is on the verge of potentially being able to create a clustered solid propellant motor IRBM and/or ICBM. This Ghadr-110 series of launch vehicles may have all together in fact replaced the apparently shelved Shahab-4 improved Taep’o-dong-1 class booster some years ago with the Shahab-3B, the No-dong-B/Mirim and the new Ghadr-101 systems. It can not be understated just how much the Iranian solid propellant, motor program owes to Pakistan, China and the South African industry under its former regimes and the indirect Israeli/French contribution to that rapidly developing effort.

Whether this is the liquid propellant No-dong-B or truly a solid propellant missile is uncertain, but it would be foolish to count the solid propellant program out of the strategic picture in spite of the historic trends seen in Russia and China. However if Iran receives the Taep’o-dong-2C/3 then it will have the No-dong-B in hand because the TD-2C/3 upper stage is an altitude version of the No-dong-B/Mirim.


1. Gertz, Bill, ” Iran set for another flight test of missile”, The Washington Times, 8, Sept. 2000, pp. 1 & A20.

2. “ Iran test-fires missile”, AP article, 22, Sept. 2000.

3. Gertz, Bill, “ Iran’s missile test fails after takeoff”, The Washington Times, 22, Sept. 2000, p. A5.

4. Koch, Andrew, Third Iranian Shahab test “a fizzle”, Jane’s Intelligence Review, Nov. 2000, p. 5.

5. http://www.fas.org/irp/congress/2000_hr/hr_092100.html, Iran's Ballistic Missile and Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs, Hearing before the International Security, Proliferation, and Federal Services Subcommittee of the Committee on Governmental Affairs, United States Senate, September 21, 2000

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