26 January 2007

Friday's Missile News: Iranian Satellite & China's DF-31

Couple of quick ones from around the 'sphere:

  1. Iran Announces It Has Built a Satellite Launcher. (26 January) - Jerusalem Post. Iran has converted its 30-ton Shahab-3 missile into a satellite launch vehicle, a US-based aviation journal reported Thursday. According to Aviation Week and Space Technology, Alaoddin Boroujerdi, chairman of Iran's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, told a group of students and clerics in Qom, near one of Iran's missile test sites, that the launcher is assembled and will "soon" be sent into space with one of Iran's satellites. Israeli defense expert Uzi Rubin, in a report to the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, said that "once Iran learns how to put 300 kg. into earth orbit, it could adapt the satellite launcher into an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could drop more than 300 kg. anywhere in the world." In August, an Iranian hard-line cleric warned Israel that Iranian missiles would land in Tel Aviv if the "Jewish state" attacked Iran, Iranian state-run television reported. Ahmad Khatami, a mid-ranking cleric, said Israel should bear in mind its month-long war with Hizbullah before considering any threats against Iran.
    Boasting that Hizbullah's 70-km.-range missiles 'turned Israel into a country of ghosts,' Khatami declared that Israel would face dire consequences if it 'makes an iota of aggression against Iran.' 'They must fear the day [Iran's] 2,000-kilometer-range missiles land in the heart of Tel Aviv,' he said. Iran has consistently claimed that its Shahab-3 missiles have a range of 2,000 km. However, US defense analysts believe the Shahab-3's range to be 800-1,000 km., which nevertheless includes Israel, Saudi Arabia, all of the Persian Gulf, and southern Turkey. However, Congress has received reports from the US Defense Intelligence Agency that Iran could develop an ICBM with a range of 3,000 km. by 2015.

    YHS is taking a "wait and see" attitude re. this report. On the one hand, the Iranians, like the Soviets under Kruschev tend to wax hyperbolic over capabilities (Remember Kruschev's remarks about Russian factories turning out missiles like so many sausages? U-2 and later, Corona imagery proved otherwise and that the missile gap was in favor of the US) both real and imagined. The ability to loft a satellite into orbit does not necessarily confer ICBM capabilities to a launcher. Recall that the first US satellite, explorer, was launched atop a Jupiter-C which was a modified Redstone MRBM liquid fuel first stage with two solid fuel upper stages consisting of clustered Sergeant rockets, that lofted a 14kg satellite into orbit. The Iranian version likely takes a similar path - liquid fuel 1st stage and solid fuel 2nd/3rd stage (see illustration below of "Iris" or Shahab-3D. OTOH, if they have developed and successfully launch this configuration, it raises the stakes for missile defense in that now you are looking at a seperating target (vice unitary) to whch penetration aides may be added and increases the threat level for Israel and the Gulf States. It doesn't mean that suddenly New York or Washington are going to be ranged by the Shahab-3.

  2. Whither the DF-31? Good analysis/discussion here and here re. the reliability and development problems of the DF-31 ICBM (DIA classification). There is a reason, afterall, that it *is* called rocket science. Reference also discussion here regarding system reliability.