Iran Missile Program
Progress on indigenous missile production was often reported by one source or another in Teheran, perhaps falsely, to demonstrate that Iran was a growing power against Israel and to intimidate its other enemies in the region. However, Iran continued to rely primarily on limited North Korean missile production capacity. North Korea's perilous economic condition and the consequent possibility that it would have to moderate its "rogue state" character in order to survive, could leave Iran without an adequate and reliable supplier of missiles in a war.
After the end of the Iran-Iraq war, the US exerted great pressure on Russia, China, India, and other countries to withhold nuclear reactor technology from Iran. Despite occasional reports that Iran had acquired weapon-grade fissile materials from external sources or had produced such material from its own reactors, into the mid-1990s there was no hard evidence that Iran had been hiding a nuclear weapons development program. Ambiguous statements from various Iranian officials about progress in acquiring nuclear weapons could have, like reports of indigenous missile production, reflected a deliberate policy of magnifying Iran's power by exaggerating its capabilities. The statements could also have reflected an indecision by Iranian authorities about the need for such weapons. Indeed, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities in 1992 and 1993 did not reveal any activities inconsistent with peaceful power development and Iran's obligations as a signatory to the NPT. Still, it was felt that the relentless US opposition to Iran's (legal) nuclear power development and pressure on potential suppliers of nuclear technology significantly impeded any program Iran could have had underway at the time to acquire nuclear weapons, substantiating US and Israeli estimates that acquisition of nuclear weapons could take Iran as long as 7 to 15 years (from 1995).
Iran had developed a chemical warfare capability as a response to Iraqi chemical attacks on Iranian troops during the Gulf War. By the end of the war, Iran was said to have been producing nerve agents and other offensive chemicals for delivery by artillery shells and aerial bombs. Jane's estimated Iran's stockpile of various agents in the 1990s at between several hundred and 2,000 tons. Syria and North Korea, both having missiles with chemical warheads, could also have assisted Iran in developing such warheads for its missiles. Reports that Iran had been sponsoring work on biological weapons were unconfirmed.
Iran was still recovering economically and militarily from the destruction of the Gulf War with Iraq by the end of the 20th century, and according to various sources the process was still ongoing after 2000. Although suspected by the US (and other countries) of sponsoring terrorist acts against American personnel and facilities, Iran did not possess a direct ballistic missile or other military threat to the continental US, Hawaii, or possessions. Moreover, Iran was not seen as likely in the near-term to develop an indigenous capacity to produce nuclear payloads for any of its missiles or strike aircraft. Iran could have been building a capacity for weaponizing chemical and biological agents, but whether producing these "poor man's atomic bombs" were for offensive or deterrence purposes was not readily evident.
Most of the Iranian missile development industry was located in Karaj, outside Tehran. Iran's missile infrastructure also included a Chinese-built missile plant near Semnan, larger North Korean-built plants at Isfahan and Sirjan (which could produce liquid fuels and some structural components), and missile test facilities at Shahroud and the Shahid Hemat Industrial Group research facility just south of Tehran. Historically Iranian missile "production" largely consisted of the assembly of kits of imported parts. However, the Scud B system was said to be produced using a significant proportion of locally manufactured components.
Iranian missile inventories, as with much of their arsenal, were historically highly uncertain, though lower estimates were perhaps somewhat more credible than the upper range of the higher estimates. Iran was estimated to have at least 50 and as many as 300 Scud Bs, with a range of about 200 miles, and at least 50 and as many as 450 Scud Cs, with a range of some 300 miles. In 1995 the International Institute for Strategic Studies estimated in their annual publication The Military Balance, that Iran had approximately 210 Scud B/C type missiles, and another 200 Chinese M-7 (DF-7/CSS-8) missiles, reportedly imported in 1989. These estimates remained static through 2000, but by 2005 their estimates of Scud types had gone to 300, and their estimates of M-7s to 175 (though they did report unknown numbers of the Nazeat series, also known as the Mushak series, which were copies of the Chinese missile). These subsequent estimates remained static through 2008.
Also in development in the late 1990s were derivatives of North Korea's No-Dong missile, which entered service in 2002. Called Shahab-3 (meteor or shooting star in Farsi) the missiles gave Iran a capability with twice the range of the existing Scud-C/Shahab-2 missiles it had in service, with a range of 1,300 kilometers. Iran was estimated of have anywhere from 25 to 100 of the missiles in service. In development were Shahab-4/5/6, successors to the Shahab-3 and also based on North Korean designs (No-Dong and Taepo-Dong designs).
Iran had been eager to acquire China's M-9 (600 km/500 kg) and M-11 (300 km/500 kg) single-stage, solid-fuel, road-mobile missiles, but US pressure on China had prevented transfers. The Tondar-68 (1,000 km/500 kg) and the Iran-700 (700 km/500kg) were other reported development programs that depended on continuing Chinese assistance, according to Jane's. China was also believed to be assisting Iran in extending the range of the operational HY-1 (85 km/400 kg) and the HY-2 (110 km/500 kg) cruise missiles, which posed a greater threat to shipping in the Persian Gulf.
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