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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Shahab-4, No-dong-B

Satellite or Strategic Launch Vehicles?

© Charles P. Vick 2007 All Rights Reserved

2-27, 2007 - 11-30-09/11-5-12, 4-2-2013


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.

No-Dong-B/Mirim IRBM known to be land mobile and silo deployed

Shahab-4 Background History

 The Islamic republic has issued a range of diverse statements regarding its space program. The Iranian defense minister announced in February 1999 that Iran was in the process of constructing the non-military Shahab-4 missile for the purpose of launching a satellite into space

However three separate programs have replaced the original Shahab-4/Taep’o-dong-1A program launch vehicle with the successful flights of the Shahab-3B on August 11, 2004 and the No-dong-B/Mirim on January 17, 2006 and now the new Ghadr-101 program. Iran is separately trying to develop a small satellite launch vehicle perhaps similar to the Shahab-3D/IRIS or an up rated Taep'o-dong-1A or some variation utilizing the No-dong-B as a first stage. On February 25, 2007 Iran flew a single stage Shahab-3A/B class booster rocket as a sounding rocket.

The Iranian Shahab-4 missile is believed to be a derivation of the 1,350-1,600 kilometer range North Korean No-dong -A missile delivering a 1,158 - 550 kilograms warhead and the follow on Taep’o-dong-1/Paekdosan-1 (TD-1) launch vehicle. In recent years the Iranian’s have indicated that the Space booster variant was having solid motor boosters added to the design originally considered among other unspecified design changes.

That has in recent year changed with the improved Taep’o-dong-1A being replaced by the No-dong-B in December 2005 with 16 of 18 deployed in Iran in 2006. No-dong-B is Shahab-4/Mirim the so called BM-25 which is a incorrect designation from a tactical rocket system label. On January 17, 2006 Iran flight tested the No-dong-B to at least 3,000 to 3,218 kilometers but the missile is credited with a range of 4,000 kilometers totally out performing the Taep’o-dong-1 class missile.

The first indications of the development of the Shahab-4 derivation of the Taep’o-dong-1 came in The Washington Times on September 11, 1997 when it stated the following: “The Shahab-3 and 4 programs appear to be getting considerable assistance from China and Russia.” (1)

Shahab-3, (3A) and Shahab-4 missile programs are discussed in this article. Shahab-3 is credited with 930 miles (1,496 kilometers) actually [ 1,350-1,600 kilometers demonstrated] range and the Shahab-3B with 1,242 miles (2,000 km demonstrated) while the Shahab-4 is credited with 1,240 miles (1,995km) [ Taep’o-dong-1 demonstrated a range of 1,464-2,973 kilometers with less than 50 kilogram payload using three stages] whose prototype appearance is believed to be 2-3 years (1999-2000) away. It also stated an Iranian Diplomat was arrested in Moscow, Russia in 1997 as he was trying to buy missile blue prints. For all practical purposes the Shahab-3B had in fact achieved the Shahab-4’s credited range by August 11, 2004 effectively replacing the Shahab-4 some years after expectations.

According to some analysts, the Iranian Shahab-4 missile is believed to be a derivative of the 1,500-kilometer range North Korean Nodong-2. Actually this is the No-dong-A, Shahab-3A. Other reports claim that the missile is based on the Soviet SS-4 missile, and is entirely a product of Russian missile technology. The preponderance of evidence suggests that the Shahab 4 is the North Korean three-stage Taepodong-1, which was initially flown by the DPRK as a space launch vehicle. The systems

The earliest suggestion that the Soviet/Russian/Ukrainian SS-4 engines or missile airframe could be a part of the Shahab program came from, The LA Times, on February 12, 1997 when it republished the first reports initially released in the Israeli press during January 1997. Israeli sources claimed that Russia had been providing Iran technology from the SS-4, which has a range of 2,000km which is sufficient to reach Israel . Israeli officials briefed US intelligence agencies during February 1997. The Technology transfer from Russia involved “detailed instructions on how to construct the weapon delivery system, U.S. Sources said.” There is also some indication that some parts of the SS-4 were transferred. (2) The Washington Times, February 13, 1997 reported that some of the guidance systems components and detailed plans to build the SS-4 was what was transferred to Iran. (3)

It is critical to point out this did not necessarily give the Iranians detailed design drawings of the SS-4 missile airframe, and its RD-214 rocket engine or the associated documentation on the hardware. Nor did it give them copies of the actual hardware much less the precise engineering drawings of each part or the materials and technology to produce and duplicate that technology. This transfer only provided them with the detailed plans on how to produce the launch vehicle.

It is interesting to note that none of this SS-4 hardware has appeared in Iran or North Korea as of this writing of February 2007 implying that the above analysis is correct as shall be further explained.

The only application where the Iranian’s and North Korean’s could apply this acquired production technology is in the Shahab-5 and Shahab-6/Taep’o-dong-2C/3 boosters programs. However this assumes the Iranians much less the North Korean’s can or desires to duplicate that technology. Certainly this production technology could take three to five years under the most optimal of conditions to duplicate assuming it has the political will, economic vitality, and facilities infrastructure, materials, in addition to the trained, educated and experienced personnel to support an expensive effort of this magnitude. However, to assimilate that production technology it may take Tehran years beyond their intended design development cycle for those launch vehicles presently under development or planned. Therefore, they are left with no other alternative but to work with the in hand existing North Korean launch vehicle technology, that they currently possess, and their rework of it to create the Shahab-4 and Shahab-5/6 programs hardware in cooperation with North Korea.

If there is anything the Iranian’s have learned from the SS-4 engine and or its rocket body production information it is how to apply it to the design they are developing for the Taep’o-dong-2, 2A, 2B, 2C/3/Shahab-5/6 class boosters first stages which was already well along in development. Clearly the transfer of technology limits imposed on the Iranians has had a serious affect on their progress as is evident in the Shahab-3 program.

All the existing 149, SS-4’s were scrapped or placed in school laboratories or put on display in museums in 1991 because of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Force Treaty, (INF). However the SS-4 warheads, guidance system, engines along with other instruments and useful components were not destroyed. Those components were either sent back to the manufactures for use in other programs or were sent to other specialized destruction centers.

By October 18, 1997 it was stated in the Washington Times that: “Iran was just three years (2000) from fielding the first of two versions of the North Korean, No-dong missile called the Shahab-3 and 4…..” (4) On July 29, 1998 The Washington Times stated that the Iranian Shahab-4, (the North Korean Taep’o-dong-1/NKSL-1) which has a range of 1,240 miles (1,995.16 km) will require 2-5 years (2000-2003) to appear. (5)

The Shahab-4 is projected to include improved guidance components; a two stage version would have a range of 2,000-2,200 kilometers while the three stages Shahab-4 could potentially have a range of 2,672-2,896 kilometers range with a warhead weight on the order of 1,158-650 kilograms. The Shahab-4 would be capable of hitting targets as far away as Germany and Western China . The Iranian Zelzal project provided for the rework development of the North Korean No-dong-A missile with a 1,350-1,600 kilometer range.

Iran ’s Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani’s quoted in the February 8, 1998 issue of Florida Today, that the “Shahab-4 rocket now in development would be used to carry satellites into space--- not for military purposes. The Shahab-3 missile is the last military missile Iran will produce,…. We have no plans for another war missile .” (6)

Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Vice-Admiral Ali Shamkhani told state television on 23 August 2000 that "we are also investing in production of that military equipment that, with minimum cost, can have maximum effects on our deterrence capabilities. In fact we are investing in [our access] to space technology or its prerequisite field like missile technology by improving the range, accuracy, and destruction power of missiles. This is one of our main aims." As late as 2001, Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani said the Shehab-4 intermediate-range missile was actually a satellite launcher.

http://www.spacedaily.com/2003/031105122356.q3oibf7u.html Iran Says It Will Not Manufacture Shahab-4 Long Range Missile TEHRAN (AFP) Nov 05, 2003 [EXCERPT] Iran has no intention of manufacturing a missile more powerful than the Shahab-3, a medium-range missile with a touted range of over 1,500 kilometers that recently went into service, the defense ministry said in a statement carried Wednesday by the student news agency ISNA. "As we have said on several occasions and contrary to certain statements, Iran has no programme to build a Shahab-4 missile," the statement was quoted as saying. It was not clear what provoked the defense ministry to issue such a statement. (6A)

However in November of 1997 he had previously said that, “ Iran was developing a missile with a greater range than the Shahab-3….”(6)

The Washington Times provided supplemental information on March 2, 1999 quoting from the Iranian defense minister’s Ali Shamkani, press conference of February 7, 1999, “that the engine tests of the longer-range Shahab-4 will begin soon.” (7)

It is known that Iran has static test firing test stands, battleship model versions of the No-dong-A and the No-dong-B along with facilities for the Taep’o-dong-2C/3 as displayed in the following images which helps define the actual program direction.

The No-dong-B reflects entirely new missile engine technology that has had a high impact on the Shahab-4/Mirim and Shahab-5/6/Taep’o-dong-2C/3 programs explaining the considerable delays in those programs. These images would suggest that the No-dong-B was intended to become the Shahab-4 all along over the reworked Taep’o-dong-1 design.

On July 16, 1999, The Washington Times noted according to Kenneth R. Timmerman, President of Middle East Data Project, Inc. that new booster testing activities were observed at the Iranian Missile test center “ near Shahroud East of Tehran in late April ”. “We’ve seen them stack stages, then taking them down over the past six weeks,” (April May and early June 1999) one analyst said. “This strongly suggests they will be launching a multi-stage missile.” (8)

It was suggested in the above noted report that the Iranians have stacked and un-stacked believed to be a Taep’o-dong-1 article this apparent Shehab-4 class multi-staged missile during a six week period of May through July 1999. This published report fails to clarify whether the missile in question was the Taep’o-dong-1, in all probability or the less likely new Taep’odong-2 or an Iranian derivation on those designs possibly utilizing solid motor upper stages. Whether this was a build up to a flight test of the Shahab-4/NKSL-1/Taep’o-dong-1 or Kosar (See Shahab-5 & 6) an IRIS booster or more ground testing and or an Iranian evaluation of North Korean technology is unclear. The passage of over eight years from this event with the lack of a successful launch appearance of the Shahab-4 or Shahab-3/IRIS booster would tend to suggest that this series of tests was an evaluation that portended the at least temporary shelving of the Shahab-4 program. This would have been done in favor of the primary follow on goal of the development of the Shahab-5, and 6 programs which could ultimately occur in 2001 or later in 2002-2003.

Program Shift

However this changed when Iran flight tested the No-dong-B on January 17, 2006 and subsequently deployed in 2006, 16 of 18 received in December 2005. In affect the original design of the Shahab-4 had been replaced by three separate programs the successful flights of the Shahab-3B on August 11, 2004 and on January 17, 2006 by the No-dong-B and now the new Ghadr-101. This major program shift had to have occurred between 1999/2000 and 2003 in both North Korea and Iran . This however does not mean that Iran abandoned the improved Taep’o-dong-1 technological approach to a satellite launch vehicle that they had invested to the extent of purchasing from North Korea a Taep’o-dong-1 class booster for research and potential development.

If the rocket in question is an SS-4 rocket body or SS-4 engine based satellite launcher it would have been erected not stacked on the pad as is done with the Taep’o-dong-1/NKSL-1 class booster rocket. This in itself probably means that the original Shahab-4 design was indeed based on the Taep’o-dong-1 ballistic missile technology with Iranian indigenous redesign refinements being added to the design. The SS-4 class technology can only be applied to the Taep’o-dong-2/Shahab-5 and 6 class booster since the Taep’o-dong-1 is known to be based on the No-dong-A and Scud-B /SAM-2 technology. Further observations are required to determine the origin and nature of the Shahab-4.

The Shahab-4 satellite launch vehicle as well as the Shahab-5/LRICBM/Kosar and Shahab-6 potential satellite launch vehicle/LRICBM have now been identified as being an apparent Iranian variant of the North Korean Taep’o-dong 1 and 2 missile series by the National Air Intelligence Center (NAIC). Alternatively NAIC also suggested that the Iranians may be using solid propellant upper stages based on acquired Russian technology and or requested purchase of assistance from China. (9)

During the spring of 2000 it was unclear which variant of North Korean hardware was being developed by Iran for the Shahab-4/NKSL-1/Taep’o-dong-1 and Shahab-5/Kosar/IRIS, and or Shahab-6 launch vehicles. With time that multiple hardware development issues have as of 2006 been clarified with some certainty of accuracy as the real Shahab-3B, No-dong-B , Ghadr-101, and Taep’o-dong-2C/3 appeared.

The first launch of the Shahab-4 may be less than a year away once the technical issues if any or political issues holding up the flight are resolved. It has also been suggested that Iran will deploy the Taep’o-dong-1 as a ballistic missile with out flight testing it based on the North Korean test flight. This as we shall see is highly questionable as time has proven correct.

DPRK & Iran's Overall Launch Vehicle Development Heritage

Did Iran Redirect Its Launch Vehicle Development Program?

The Process

To answer this question a basic analysis process must be used in order to be reasonable certain of the results. This process is to define what they have said or published as compared with what they are building verses what they are doing with what they are building as compared to what they have said. If there is a clear lack of information on something except for small hints then this is a major flag that something is indeed going on that needs to be closely examined. What follows is a continuation of that analysis process.

There is also the possibility that Iran may simply have foregone the Shahab-4 since it is ultimately only a test bed pathfinder program for the larger launch vehicle the Shahab-5 and Shahab-6 programs. How Iran intends to carry out the flight testing of the Shahab-4 remained unclear until the No-dong-B and Shahab-3B flight test but how the space booster will be tested remains unclear regardless of what its configuration turns out to be. Iran will in all probability follow the testing program conducted by North Korea launching a satellite with the derivation of the Taep’o-dong-1/ Paekdosan-1 satellite launch vehicle design as suggested by Iran’s Defense minister.

However, this does not make sense except for Iran since North Korea has already scrapped the launch pad and gantry umbilical tower used in the Taep’o-dong-1 flight test program. They have built in place of that facility a new replacement launch pad and gantry umbilical tower to accommodate the Taep’o-dong-2 derivation and follow on satellite launch vehicle systems. This confirms that the Taep’o-dong-1 class booster was purely a flight test bed pathfinder launch vehicle program for the follow on Taep’o-dong- 2C/3/Shahab-5/6 class launch vehicle design.

North Korea agreed to a moratorium on missile testing in exchange for aid from the United States and other nations which it did not keep. In the meanwhile, modifications to the Taepo'dong-1 launch facility were completed in the fall of 1998 and spring 1999 to make it capable of accommodating flight testing of the Taep'o-dong-2 class launch vehicle. These modifications which continued through 2006 are the primary reason why the U.S. intelligence community stated in the spring of 1999-2003 that North Korea was still developing the Taep'o-dong-2.

Reply by the Defense Intelligence Agency to the Senate intelligence committee on PDF page 8 of http://www.fas.org/irp/congress/2003_hr/021103qfr-dia.pdf dated 30 June 2003 : "We [DIA] continue to assess that Pyongyang may be ready to test the Taepo Dong 2 (TD-2), perhaps as a space launch vehicle, and perhaps in another country, with little advance warning. A flight test of a shorter range missile also is possible at anytime [sic]. (9A)

"We [DIA] have no information to suggest Pyongyang intends to deploy the Taep'o dong 1 (TD-1) as a surface-to-surface missile in North Korea . We believe instead that the vehicle was a test bed for multi-stage missile technologies." (9A)

The public DIA statement mimics the reports previously done by this author for FAS well before their statements.

It has been suggested that the Shahab-4 missile is based on the Russian/Soviet SS-4 IRBM and its open cycle RD-214 rocket engine. However this is questionable because of INF and Missile Technology Control Regime (MTRC) requirements. The design of the Shahab-4, Shahab-5 and Shahab-6 are not at all that well understood based on the available public information except for the North Korean context. However based on the trends seen in Iran’s missile development programs to date it must be assumed that they will not try and reinvent the wheel at this time until they have gained much more experience in managing these high technology programs. Therefore Iran can be expected to utilize continued North Korean missile technology development regardless of the suggested Russian missile design and engine technology transfer.

Potential Intelligence Limits

What may be creating the confusion for the U.S. Intelligence community is the first stage propulsion system of the Shahab-3 and original design Shahab-4 verses what is to be used in the Shahab-5 and 6 programs. All of these launch vehicles are expected to use the same or similar propellants used on the Shahab-3 and Taep’o-dong-1 boosters. The Shahab-3 and original Shahab-4 launch vehicle design are powered by a single thrust chamber open cycle No-dong-A engine, that is based on circumstantial evidence derived from a Russian Isayev engine utilized by Miass the Makeyev OKB. Iran at first had two choices it had to decide on for its chosen propulsion system for the Shahab-5 and 6 first stages. In both cases it would use a total of four thrust chambers but there the difference divides. They could use four No-dong engines in a cluster, which would be difficult to fit in the already specified missile body diameter. Otherwise they had to develop a new turbo-pump for the four No-dong thrust chambers. Clearly Iran’s Designer Generals chose to try and develop a new turbo-pump with foreign assistance. Fortunately the initial Iranian effort to acquire that kind of hardware from Russia was cut off by the Russia industry government security apparatus cooperation before it got started. What they did after that is any bodies guess but can be surmised circumstantially from the fact that certain schools in Russia and China may have provided the education “Know How” to finish the job over time. It is also presumed that with China’s help North Korea may have completed that effort for both itself and Iran. It is presumed here that Iran may have worked together with the North Koreans as well as provided the financial backing to move the effort along in-spite of the then existing flight test moratorium by North Korea.

The static test firings of the Shahab-3 and 4 missiles would have only shown the single thrust chamber static test firing to the U. S. Intelligence community. But if they observed a cluster firing of four thrust chambers they probably could have been confused as to whether this was a No-dong-A thrust chamber cluster firing or a SS-4, RD-214 engine thrust chamber cluster firing. Imagery wise they probably could not tell the difference even though the No-dong-A cluster would be smaller than the SS-4 cluster size but the image signature would have been very similar in shape. The flame signature would have identified the identical or similar known propellants as being used.

NPO Trud Information Implications

What has not been said on the SS-4 issue is very revealing. The SS-4 uses TM-185 a hydrocarbon based fuel and AK-27I Nitric Oxide oxidizer propellants which NPO Trud has never had the experience of working with. The actual engine used in the SS-4 single stage missile is the RD-214 engine that was developed by NPO Energomash – Gas Dynamics Laboratories. In all of the various accusations suggested not once has Energomash’s name come up for discussion since they were the designers and developers and producers of the engine. In fact the engine’s from the SS-4’s were to be returned from Lesnaya in the Former Soviet Union to Energomash for use in civil space boosters when the 149 deployed SS-4’s were scrapped into sections in 1991 under the INF treaty documented requirements. The warheads were separated and sent to appropriate recycling facilities while the engines, guidance systems and other useful components were saved and warehoused in Russia. NPO Yuzhnoy the Yangel SKB Yuzhnoy Design Bureau and Dedicated Factory located in Dnipropetrovsk the Ukraine originally designed and produced the SS-4. Its production for field deployment was later taken over by NPO Yuzhnoy’s dedicated factory SKB Polyut Production Association – which has not produced the SS-4 in many years. In both cases neither organization has come up in the suggested discussions on the SS-4 and SS-5 issue. SKB Polyut does still produce the C-1/ SL-8/Kosmos, SS-5 derived space booster with it’s RD-216 two engine clustered first stage. There simply is no certain answer in the public realm on whether the SS-4 or the Taep’o-dong-1/NKSL-1 booster are the basis of the Shahab-4 or the Shahab-5/Kosar satellite launch vehicles with this update except for the strong circumstantial evidence suggesting otherwise. The fact that NAIC seems along with the rest of the U. S. Intelligence community to have dropped the SS-4 concept in favor of the North Korean Taep’o-dong-1 reworked model approach certainly seems to suggest that this is what was going on at that time before the dramatic changes manifested themselves.

The Washington Times, on September 22, 1999 quoted the Air Intelligence Agency, National Air Intelligence Center of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio report entitled “Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat” which discussed several issues related to the Iranian missile programs. Those quoted comments from the NAIC publication were as follows:

“Iran is working on the development of at least two medium-range ballistic missiles, the Shahab-3 and Shahab-4. The Iranian defense minister has also stated that a Shahab-5 missile is in development. The Shahab-5 probably will have a longer range than the Shahab-4 and may be an IRBM. ( Intermediate Range Ballistic missile).”

The article went on to quote from other officials to the affect that the U. S. Intelligence community believes that, “ Iran’s long range missile program will be disguised as a space program.” It went on further to state that a senior U. S intelligence officer had said in a briefing that, “ Iran appears to be developing long-range missile “in a step-by-step approach to get to the ICBM’s.”

“Clearly they’re progressing on a path,…more likely following this … rather than a copy cat approach,”.

It went on to suggest from the officials statements that the alternative approach for Iran to follow was to do what North Korea did when it developed the Taep’o-dong-1 launch vehicle. That is it could use the No-dong-A Iran’s Shahab-3 , 3A or 3B and Scud-B/Hwasong-5 Iran’s Shahab-1 and adding a solid motor third stage plus warhead to create what would be a very limited range IRBM. They also added that the Iranians could follow the North Korean Taep’o-dong-2 design approach to what would be a LRICBM with a range limit of 3,400 miles (5,470.60 kilometers). They seemed to suggest that the Taep’o-dong-2 design approach was the better way to go. (9)

On February 9, 2000, The Washington Times, disclosed the following information, “The [12] engines arrived in Iran on Nov. 21, (1999) after they were spotted being loaded aboard an Iran Air Boeing 747 cargo jet that left Suinan International Airfield about 12 miles north of-----Pyongyang (North Korea)”. These are the same engines used in No-dong-A MRBM.

The article went on to state that China is continuing to “sell missile technology to North Korea despite promises ---“, and it also stated that the Iranian’s are working on the, “longer range Shahab-4 ---.”

Then the article went on to describe several design alternatives for the use of the engines by Iran that could be used to create a Taep’o-dong-1 class booster. Among those design suggested for the Shahab-4 was to duplicate the Taep’o-dong-1 class booster by reworking the Taep’o-dong-1 design. Alternatively they could utilized the No-dong–A engine applied to the first stage of the Shahab-3 toped by another Shahab-3 with the same engine as a second stage with a solid motor third stage and warhead added. (10)

It is definitely known that Iran is receiving No-dong-A engines from North Korea based on two separate intelligence documented events disclosed by the Washington Times that have been publicly published. This is perhaps the strongest series of possible indication that the North Korean and Iranian ballistic missile and satellite launch vehicle programs are almost one and the same programs.

Quoting from “Mr. Robert Walpole National Intelligence officer for Strategic and Nuclear Programs from Congressional testimony in the Washington Times of February 10, 2000 “Those engines are critical to the Taep’o-dong Program,-----of the North Korean’s long-range missile. And they would be critical to the Shahab-3 program and any extensions of the Shahab-3 program”.

--------“The CIA analysis also said North Korea has not stopped developing its Taep’o-dong long-range missile----“. (11, 13)

NBC News on February 23, 2000 noted the following, “ Iran’s Defense minister last year publicly acknowledged the development of the Shahab-4 originally called it a more capable ballistic missile than the Shahab-3 but later categorizing it as solely a space launch vehicle with no military application. Iran’s defense minister also has publicly mentioned plans for a “Shahab-5”----. (12)

On September 13, 2000 hearing U.S Senate discussion Mr. Walpole National Intelligence officer for Strategic and nuclear programs stated: “ 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. (13)

It was suggested at the time that the Taep’o-dong-2 will be deployed without flight testing by North Korea according to the NAIC. Research and development on the Taep’o-dong-2 continues unabated according to these reports.

Shahab-4 Program Moth Balled?

The Iranian flight test of the Shahab-4/Taep’o-dong-1/NKSL-X-1 derivation satellite launch vehicle should have taken place with in a year or so of February, March, or April 1999. This is when static test firings of the Shahab-4 booster engines were to have taken place. That is if Iran had chosen to go that way. It did not as is now known.

The no show launch appearance of Iranian’s Shahab-4 booster after over eight years of being expected certainly indicates some kind of program problems or portends a program redirection that has developed delaying that flight test or the project has been mothballing in favor of something better. It was seen being stacked and de-stacked several times on its launch pad near Shahroud East of Tehran, Iran in late April through early June 1999 buy U.S. intelligence imaging systems as stated before. This situation was confirmed on July 13, 2001 by the Ha’aretz, news paper in Israel, with the following statement, “It also appears that development of the Shihab 4, whose range is estimated to exceed 2,000 km, has been put on hold.” (14)

“Israeli sources believe this is a temporary hiatus which may originate in political considerations and pressure from the European Union and the U. S.” (14)

Shahab-4 Research and Development Status Remains Unclear.

To analyze the question concerning the status of the development of the Shahab-4 missile we have to stick with the trends seen to date while being mindful of the new Middle East report suggestions. More recently on September 7, 2001 it was suggested that the Shahab-4 development program is slowly continuing. It was suggested that the Shahab-4 program has been impacted by "a slow down in Russian aid," and it was further suggested that the program "has been taken over by China." (15) The report went on to suggest that Iran is under considerable pressure from "The European Union, to stop the Shahab-4 program," and that the published report suggesting that the program had been "temporally shelved" (14) was a "result of Iranian disinformation". (15) It was also suggested in this Middle East Newsline report that the missile technology transfers from Russia to Iran's missile program had been "significantly reduced under President Vladimir Putin" presidency. (15)

This report, suggesting the continued development of the Shahab-4, flies in the face of the trends previously noted on the historical development of the Shahab-4 program. Under the best conditions, based on what is thought to be understood on this Shahab-4 program, it can only be considered to be a pathfinder program for the much more serious Shahab-5 and Shahab-6/Taep’o-dong-2C/3 program as previously noted. However, Iran's defense minister has suggested, as previously noted, that the Shahab-4 will be used to launch a satellite. This however, does not preclude Iran's final development of the Shahab-4, while masquerading as a space booster, designed to be a ballistic missile.

The United States has, through the Department of State and the Bureau of Arms Control, expressed considerable concern that several of the rogue states of North Korea, Iran and Pakistan are trying to disguise their ballistic missile programs "under the guise of peaceful space-launch programs." (16) The September 14, 2001 article, in the Middle East Newsline, further suggested that " China is a significant contributor to the", Shahab-4 and Shahab-5 programs. (16) This was previously suggested on this Iranian missile web site as actually having been requested of China by Iran.

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London) reported on 14 June 2004 that a military source in the Iranian Ministry of Defense, "in a meeting last week with Revolutionary Guards commanders, Khamenei said that Israel was planning to attack Iran's nuclear installations and the Iranian military soon, and therefore defense and military preparedness should be boosted as soon as possible. Khamenei stressed that the increase in petroleum prices allowed Iran to allocate a larger budget to its military projects. [ Iran 's] Ministry of Defense received $1 billion to resume its Shahab 4 and Shahab 5 project.... [President] Khatami halted the project of the Shahab 4, whose range is 2,800 km [which covers Western Europe], and the Shahab 5, whose range is 4,900-5,300 km [and which can reach the U.S.], because he thought it was a project incompatible with Iran's strategic interests and defense needs." [MEMRI] This would certainly seem to indicate that the Shahab-4 program was to be resumed with new considerations that would impact its development direction and pacing.

Besides Iran, what is North Korea Doing?

In fact North Korea also has abandoned its Taep’o-dong-1 booster in favor of its Taep’o-dong- 2C/3 booster program. They scrapped the launch site pad and gantry umbilical tower and built an entirely new launch pad and much taller gantry umbilical tower to handle the Taep’o-dong-2 and follow on redesigned booster systems. More recently inn late June or early July 2001 North Korea used that launch pad to static test fire the Taep’o-dong-2 integrated first stage and four thrust chambered engine or engines. The firing was done with the first stage sitting up vertically on the pad firing downward into the pad flame bucket, which ducts under the gantry umbilical tower. This first stage remained on the pad for months while dynamic, electronic, and general systems tests were conducted with it which also included the static test firing. For some unexplained reason the flight test did not follow during the middle of that five year plan as expected. The burn mark from that firing was very prominent according to the imagery news reports. The North Korean launch site and its combined gantry umbilical tower and flame bucket use the same plan form as that used by China in its Long March launch vehicle launch facilities design. There should be no surprise in this realization of the Chinese influence on this North Korean program. Ultimately this was the end of the original Taep’o-dong-2 class launch vehicle development in favor of the follow on advanced design as shell is explained below.

If as it does appear circumstantially that Iran and North Korea are cooperating both ways then perhaps the political decision was correctly portrayed by the Iranian Defense Minister when in 1998-1999 and again in 2003 he initially said that the Shahab-4 program was a better long range ballistic missile than the Shahab-3. Then he some months later said that the Shahab-4 was to be used as a space booster only and that Shahab-3 was Iran’s last long range ballistic missile for war that it would be developing. (6, 7)

Did this reflect that the Iranian military began to have second thoughts as they assess the technological limits of the Taep’o-dong-1 design and its serious limitations for military applications as a strategic system? Clearly this was North Korea’s assessment since it was only designed as a technological pathfinder launch vehicle for a better larger higher performance Taep’o-dong-2 C/3 class system which would carry out the assigned tasks with greater certainty of successful results verses the marginal performance of the Taip’o-dong-1 system. But it must also be stated here that the Taep’o-dong-2/Shahab-5/6 class system is even less viable as a strategic deployable ballistic missile except via coffin or silo facilities but is better suited to be a space booster than the marginal performance Taep’o-dong-1 booster.

At the time the question of concern was whether Iran would in fact flight test the Taep’o-dong-2/Shahab-5, 6 class boosters for North Korea and Iran in place of North Korea ? This was because North Korea could not afford to do so because of its international agreements not to flight, test its ballistic missiles during that period. Of course this blew up in the world’s face on July 5, 2006 when North Korea flight tested the Taep’o-dong-2C/3 space booster unsuccessfully. At the time this would have imply that Iran did not want to waste its time and money repeating the Taep’o-dong-1 pathfinder program and instead chose to go for the real systems engineering goal instead back in 1998-2000 .

Surely the political leadership of Iran recognized the geopolitical impact of Iran attempting to launch a satellite and perhaps succeeding would create considerable pressure on their regime thus the decision to shelve the Shahab-4 marginal system in favor of the Shahab-5/6, Taep’o-dong-2C/3 more capable system can be understood.

Is it inconceivable for North Korea to ship the jointly developed and tested Taep’o-dong-2 booster first stage to Iran where it would be mated with the Iranian Shahab-3D/IRIS second and third stages of the Kosar booster to launch a satellite already announced into Earth orbit? Is that Taep’o-dong-2/Shahab-5 booster about to be shipped to Iran?

No this was the No-dong-A derived Taep’o-dong-2A design approach but that was abandoned in favor of the No-dong-B derived Taep’o-dong-2C/3 class systems approach.

However with the three separate programs having replaced the original Shahab-4/Taep’o-dong-1 program launch vehicle with the successful flights of the Shahab-3B on August 11, 2004 and the No-dong-B on January 17, 2006 as well as the new Ghadr-101. The subsequently July 5, 2006 flight test of the Taep’o-dong-2C/3 replaced the original design Taep’o-dong-2, 2A and 2B the Shahab-5, 6 launch vehicle design with an all new design launch vehicle in development for over seven years. No-dong-B had in fact been introduced into the North Korean inventory in 2003-2004 which was the precursor to the replacement Taep’o-dong-2C/3 design utilizing it airframe and propulsion design technology with a much higher performance system over the previous designs. One would think that with the less effective Taep’o-dong-1 design relegated to uselessness by the greater performance strategic and future satellite launch vehicle programs would have totally disappeared. That may be so but the only launch vehicle available for Iran today is the reworked up-rated Taep’o-dong-1A design to launch a less than 50 kilogram satellite into earth orbit since the Taep’o-dong-2C/3 is not nearly as ready as they would like it to be. The bottom line is that the propulsion system totally changed for the North Koreans and Iranians with the introduction of the No-dong-B, 3,218 - 4,000 kilometer range IRBM development completion and deployment which directly impacting the Shahab-4, 5, 6 programs back during the years 1998-2001. Taep’odong-2C/3 took over two and a part of a third North Korean five year plans to finally fly in the summer of 2006 when it was expected soon after the Taep’o-dong-1 launch on August 31, 1998 some time in the follow on five year plan during the middle years 2003-2004. There is only one reason for this and that is a total redesign and development of a new advance higher performance launch vehicle requiring an additional 5-7 years. In this particular case it would appear that the Taep’o-dong-2, 2A and 2B designs served as technology precursors developers for the follow Taep’o-dong-2C/3 final design launch vehicle. So, yes both Iran and North Korea did redirect its launch vehicle development.


1. Gertz, Bill, “Missiles In Iran of Concern To State”, The Washington Times, 11, Sept.1997, pp. 1 & p. A14.

2. Wright, Robin, “ Russia Warned on helping Iran’s Missile Program”, The LA Times, 12, Feb. 1997 pp.1 & A6.

3. Gertz, Bill, “Gore Raises Sale to Iran with Chernomyrdin”, The Washington Times, 13, Feb. 1997, p?.

4. Gertz, Bill, “House, seeks sanctions on Russia for Iran arms”, The Washington Times, 18, Oct. 1997, pp. A4.

5. Gertz, Bill, “Long range on Iranian missile”, The Washington Times, 29, July 1998,

6. “ Iran says missile for satellite launching”, Florida Today on line, 8, February 1999, AP Tehran, Iran.

6A. http://www.spacedaily.com/2003/031105122356.q3oibf7u.html Iran Says It Will Not Manufacture Shahab-4 Long Range Missile TEHRAN (AFP) Nov 05, 2003

7. Hackett, James, “Growing missile threat from Iran”, James Hackett, The Washington Times, 2, March 1999, pp. A13.

8. Timmerman, Kenneth, “ Iran’s deadly missile potential”, The Washington Times, 16, July 1999, pp. A15.

9. Gertz, Bill, “ Tehran increases range on missiles”, The Washington Times, 22, Sept. 1999 pp?.

9A. Reply by the Defense Intelligence Agency to the Senate intelligence committee on PDF page 8 of http://www.fas.org/irp/congress/2003_hr/021103qfr-dia.pdf dated 30 June 2003 :

10. Gertz, Bill, “ N. Korea sells Iran missile engines”, The Washington Times, 9, Feb. 2000, pA1.

11. Gertz, Bill, ““Critical “ N. Korean missile parts seen aiding Iran’s Program”, The Washington Times, 10, Feb. 2000, p.A3.

12. Windrem, Robert, NBC News Producer, “CIA: Iran expands missile program”, MSNBC http://www.msnbc.com/news/373532.asp, 23, Feb. 2000,.

13. http://www.fas.org/irp/congress/2000_hr/hr_092100.html, 21, Sept. 2000 hearing U.S Senate discussion on the Iranian ballistic missile programs by Mr. Walpole National Intelligence officer for Strategic and nuclear programs.

14. Schiff, Ze’ev, Ha’artez Military Editor, “Syrian Scud Fired with chemical warhead,” Ha’aretz, 13, July 2001,

15. Rodan, Steven, Iran Continues Shihab-4 Missile Project, Middle East Newsline, Sept. 7, 2001, (http://www.menewsline.com/stories/2001/september/09_07_1.html)

16. U. S. Concerned Over Space Launch Programs, Middle East Newsline, Sept. 14,

2001, (wysiwyg://1.http://wwwmenewsline.com/stories/2001/september/09_14_5.html)

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