History of Iran’s Missile Industry: How Did Iran Open Doors of Elite Missile Club?

Hamid Torabi Review 4 February 2021
History of Iran’s Missile Industry: How Did Iran Open Doors of Elite Missile Club?

The Institute for Strategic Analysis (STRATI) has translated this article from Persian which was initially published on Iran's news-analytical website Quds Online

Iran, which was not allowed to buy short-range missiles even during the Pahlavi era and when the US Gendarmerie was in the region, today, in the fourth decade of the Islamic Revolution, it has become one of the recognized missile powers and a member of the exclusive club of countries with space industries, despite the most severe sanctions and restrictions.

Today, the Islamic Republic of Iran is without a doubt one of the top missile powers in the world, in the fields of military, defense and space technologies.

Until a few decades ago, Iran, even, despite the fact that the US Gendarmerie was in the region during the reign of the previous regime, not only did not have access to technology and missiles but was not allowed to buy them.

Despite Mohammad Reza Pahlavi's political and military alliance with the United States and the signing of billion-dollar arms deals, the US government eventually humiliated him by refusing to sell Lawrence missiles, which had a range of only 120 kilometers.

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi agreed to establish a partnership with Israelis in retaliation for this misfortune and, signing a contract, for the development and increase of the range of some of his naval missiles called "Gabriel". Later, secret documents revealed that the Israelis also signed a contract with him to design a seemingly new type of missile, and they plundered millions of dollars from Pahlavi. However, later it turned out that it was not a new missile, and this contract was a scam from Pahlavi that they intended to transfer a very old and outdated technology to the Shah of Iran.

These conditions caused him to suffer heavy losses for a long time after the victory of the Islamic Revolution and during the Iran-Iraq war in the field of missile war and attacks of the Iraqi government.

Iran is among the eight missile powers in the world

Today, however, the Islamic Republic of Iran is one of the prominent powers of the exclusive club of countries with space and missile technology in the world. Four decades after the victory of the Islamic Revolution, Iran, despite the most severe sanctions and political, economic and military pressures, has not only established itself as a member of the club of ten countries with this technology but also is one of the top 8 missile powers in the world for its missile capability, according to many military experts and analysts.

According to Mohammad Javad Zarif, during the Iran-Iraq war, Iran which begged other countries to counter the missile attacks of Saddam's Ba'athist regime sought to purchase several Scud missiles from the Libyan government that was able to quell some of Saddam's recklessness and missile strikes on Iranian cities. Today, Iran has astonished not only military and technical experts thanks to its long list of various kinds of missiles produced with up-to-date innovative and sometimes unique technologies, but it has also taken the courage to think about military action and aggression against threats its territorial integrity from the world's greatest powers.

According to Ali Shamkhani, the situation during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) and the difficult challenges of the war era made the military experts and political managers of the country aware of this issue that there is a need to change the security equation in order to preserve the territorial integrity and system of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is possible if the country turns into a missile and defense power in parallel with strengthening the country's economic strength.

Therefore, the country's missile and defense development program has been practically key since the late 1960s and early 1970s, although Iranian forces had made efforts in this area during the Holy Defense era (the Iran-Iraq war).

The first steps of a young man who became the father of Iran's missiles

Due to the problems of those years and the efforts of Iranian fighters, the father of Iranian missiles emerged.  In 1985, Iran decided to respond to missile attacks with its own missiles. A group of Iranian fighters led by a young officer, Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam, who later became the father of Iranian missiles, went to Syria - the only country that cooperated with Iran in this field - to learn the techniques of preparing and launching missiles, the only country that cooperated with Iran in this field.

Eight Scud missiles were also purchased from Libya; Russian-made 6-ton missiles were also purchased, and it was planned to provide Iran with such missiles in the future as well. Along with the first shipment of missiles, two launch pads and their crews also came to Iran from Libya.

In March 1985, Iraq resumed firing missiles at Iran, and the urban warfare resumed. The difference is that this time Iran responded and the first missile hit the Kirkuk refinery on March 3.

In the following days, other missiles hit key Iraqi military and economic centers in Baghdad to stop Saddam's urban warfare.

When the Iranian squadrons flew

An important event took place in the days when Scud missiles were fired from Iran. Two Scud missiles were not fired at the insistence of Tehrani Moghaddam. Those missiles were delivered to several Iranian engineers in 1986 to test whether they could design similar prototypes.

In early 1987, Libya stopped purchasing missiles to Iran following a notice by Iraq. Libyan military advisers in Iran also secretly opened and retrieved parts of the remaining missiles and launch pads.

Later, Iraq resumed rocket fire on cities, and what did the Iranians do? In less than 20 days, they built and replaced non-existent parts of the missiles and launch pads, and made them ready to fire.

On January 2, 1987, a 13-member IRGC missile team fired a missile at the Iraqi Air Force headquarters using their knowledge in missile technologies, astonishing the world.

After that, because of the bad behavior of Gaddafi's government, Hwasong-5, which was the North Korean version of the Russian SCUD missile, replaced Libya's missiles, and Iran's local experts also obtained knowledge of its construction.

The appearance of Iran’s “Shahab”s in the sky

The first generation of Iranian missiles, which belonged to the Scud-B family and originally came from Russia and North Korea, and according to available information, Iran fired more than 230 of them at Iraqi territory. These missiles were manufactured in Iran between 1988 and 1995, and they had a range of 300 km.

Later, about 150 Shahab-1 and Shahab-2 missiles were sold to Oman, with the production of other advanced missiles and the decommissioning. About 200 more were given to Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

After Shahab-1, Shahab-2 and Shabab-3 also were manufactured. The 16-meter Shahab-3 missile has a range of about 2,000 kilometers. Later, based on the original design of the Shahab rockets, they built the satellite-carrier rockets Kavoshgar- 1 and Safir.

Despite the presence of highly advanced and strategic missiles in Iran's defense industry, Shahab-3 is still a prominent product of Iran and the nightmare of the enemies of the Islamic Republic, especially the Zionist regime.

A nightmare by the name of Shahab-3

Shahab-3 missile was a continuation of the development process of Shahab-1 and 2 missiles and was created by applying design changes in different systems.

There are many technological similarities between Shahab 2 and 3, but Shahab 3 is more advanced, and new technology and advanced guidance computer system have been used in its construction in terms of electronics, hardware and software.

To date, various models of Shahab-3 missiles have been produced and delivered to the country's armed forces, which have been upgraded in terms of range and subsystems. But they are all consisted of liquid fuel stages and have an inertial conduction system. The warhead of the latest model of Shahab-3 is a detachable type, which after reaching the descending arc at the appropriate height, is detached from the missile hull and continues towards the target, causing the enemy to be unable to destroy it.

Also, different types of warheads, including rain warheads, can be used on this missile. The length of these samples is about 16,5 and 17 meters, and their range is up to 1,800 kilometers in the final samples. The mass of their warheads is estimated at one thousand kilograms.

Considering the fact that the shortest distance from the western regions of Iran to the farthest point in the occupied territories (refers to the territories occupied by Israel during the Six-Day War of 1967 and sometimes also to areas of Southern Lebanon) does not reach 1,200 km, the Shahab 3 family is a very serious threat to any aggressor and enemy.

The surgical strike of Iran’s Fateh missile

The next step for Iranian defense experts and scientists was to increase the accuracy, speed and power of Iranian missiles and to produce up-to-date products in line with modern technologies. These efforts led to the production of a new generation of so-called surgical strike missiles and the family of 13-member Fateh missiles.

These missiles are characterized by their ballistic nature, single-stage and detachable warheads, which allows them to use different types of warheads and different applications in the areas of surface-to-surface and surface-to-sea.

Fateh C, 110A, Fateh 313 missile, Khalij-e Fars (Persian Gulf) anti-ship missile, Hormoz missile, surface-to-surface and surface-to-sea missile, and new advanced missile “Raad 500 missile” with a composite body and carbon fiber, which is one of the newest military technologies in the world, are among the products of this family of Iranian missiles.

Carbon and composite missiles with lower weight allow carrying more fuel and higher range at a lower cost.

Another important achievement of Iran's defense and missile industries in recent years is the acquisition of production technology and the use of solid fuel in missiles.

This technology, while having a great impact on the range of missiles and their production cost, has also made the storage, maintenance and use of missiles very simple and less risky. And it has provided the ground for many special achievements and unique initiatives for Iranian specialists. The buried rockets (underground missile base in the Iranian southern province of Hormozgan) that have recently been unveiled by Iran were made possible by the same technology, and were one of the Iranian initiatives that dazzled the world and set new challenges in the military sphere.

The Haj Qasem ballistic missile is one of the latest achievements and products in this family, which is considered as one of the types of Fateh missiles, has the ability to escape from radars of anti-missile defense systems.

Sejjil missiles

Another advanced generation of Iranian missiles focusing on speed has brought Iran one step closer to hypersonic missiles. Sejjil is a class of Iranian missiles, which is a two-stage type with solid fuel and a range of 2,000 to 2,500 kilometers. It is well-known among military and weapons analysts that the Iranian Sejjil can reach Tel-Aviv in 7 minutes.

This missile was first unveiled and introduced to the world on November 13, 2008, in a project called Ashura by former Iranian Minister of Defense Mostafa Mohammad Najjar. According to world military and defense experts, Iran's access to the technology to build such a missile means that Iran is at the cutting edge of ballistic missile technology and has learned everything it needs to know in this area. In fact, this missile is the first long-range missile in Iran with solid fuel.

The fastest radar evasive missile in the world

The Ghadir-110 missile is another missile in Iran that is one of the fastest missiles in the world and is able to escape all radars and anti-missile missiles. As a result, the stronger the enemy's anti-missile defense system, the more it will hit the target. Some sources have pointed to the missile's range of 2,500 to 3,000 kilometers. With these interpretations, this missile has the ability to hit the farthest areas of Europe and puts more than 70% of Asia in the range of Iran's missile capacity.

Ghadir-110 is an improved version of the famous Iranian Shahab-3 missile. Unlike the Shahab 3, this missile uses a 2-stage engine that is capable of reaching a range of 2,500 to 3,000 kilometers. It is believed that the first engine of this rocket uses liquid fuel and the second engine of this rocket uses solid fuel.


Guided ballistic missiles

One of the latest and most prominent achievements of Iranian exports is the acquisition of ballistic missile guidance technology and the modification of the missiles' path until they reach their target and hit them accurately.

This technology has been applied in the country’s new generation of missiles called "Emad" in recent years.

This missile is one of the types of ballistic missiles with two-stage separation with a warhead weight of about 750 kg, which uses liquid fuel to reach a range of 1,700 km to 2,000 km with the specified targets.

The missile has several features that the Israeli and US defense officials were terrified of unveiling. The first feature is the high speed of the Emad missile, which enables this missile to successfully cross the Zionist regime's defense barrier called Arrow-3 or Peykan-3 (exoatmospheric hypersonic anti-ballistic missile, jointly developed and produced by Israel and the United States) and destroy the intended targets in the occupied territories (Israel). The second feature of this missile is the use of a warhead, which makes it possible to maneuver and direct the warhead until the target is hit and destroyed in this missile after firing the Emad missile. This feature has caused the error coefficient of this missile to reach below 10 meters.

The presence of bullets on the warhead of this ballistic missile caused many defense experts to announce that the warhead of this Iranian missile is capable of being guided in the last stage and also has very high accuracy. Emad, as the first Iranian long-range missile, is able to be completely controlled by its operators until it reaches its target.

Iran’s Hoot missile is the fastest torpedo in the world

Iran’s Hoot (Whale) missile is one of the fastest anti-radar missiles in the world, with a speed of 100 meters per second, which is about three times faster than the missile that the Americans are proud to have. Only Iran and Russia (Shkval missile) have the technology to build such a missile, and if two of these missiles are launched, American ships in the Persian Gulf will suffer severe and fatal blows without having an escape route. The rocket launchers of this frightening missile are completely radar-evasive and remain hidden from enemy radars.

Crown of Iranian missiles

The Ashura missile with a range of 2500 km has been named the crown of Iran's missile industry. When the Islamic Republic of Iran announced the successful test of the Ashura missile, Washington and Tel Aviv responded by saying that Iran's new missile was technologically capable of hitting any American target in Eastern Europe and any Zionist target, causing widespread destruction at the point of impact.

These achievements should include a wide range of indigenous missile defense systems such as Mersad, 15 Khordad, Talash, Raad 1 and 2, Khordad-3 defense system, Tabas and Gol-e-Sar, as well as Bavar 373 system and short-range and medium-range cruise missiles.

The system, according to military experts, is even more advanced than the American Patriot and Russian S-300 systems.

From underground rocket cities to space exploration

Today, Iran's missile defense industry is the undisputed power in the region and in the international arena. This power and technology are not only the strength and advantage of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the field of defense, but also in the fields of science, technology and economy, and it is the driving force and helper to various industrial, telecommunication, scientific and research sectors of the country.

Today, the IRGC's underground missile cities or the unique and innovative missile launcher systems used in these underground cities not only show Iran's strength and defense and offensive readiness, but also removes the idea of aggression from the head of any ill-wishers of the Islamic Republic. The country's progress in the field of space has also made Iran famous and has placed it in the club of a small number of space countries.

In 2021, Iran will be a member of the Club of Holders of Missile and Aerospace Technology, which has only 10 members. Iran has been sending satellite and space flights since 2005. Iran is one of the countries of the Asian continent that is rapidly active in this field.

Iran's first satellite launch project, called Sina-1, was a joint venture with Russian experts with a budget of 15 million dollars. The country's space activities are entering their second decade of activity this year. For this reason, Manouchehr Manteghi, the director of the National Space Center, recently announced the development of a 10-year space program.

Compiling the first 10 years of the country's space plan was a big step. The program was divided into two parts of five years. In the first five years, the focus was more on creating space infrastructure and, the use of this infrastructure in scientific work was planned in the second five years.

The country's aerospace industry in these few years, has successfully designed and built satellite launchers, designed a ground base to receive space information, it has also succeeded in sending living beings into space, whether living beings from the order of primates or simple living beings. So far, Iran has taken the living cell and two astronaut monkeys into space safely and returned them. These monkeys are now kept at the Royan Research Institute.

It was in early October of 2017 that the director of the Aerospace Research Institute announced the plan of this group to send the first Iranian astronaut to the Earth's atmosphere by 2025.

Achieving a complete space chain

Now, exploiting the capacities of the space industry has become one of the strategic and main goals for the maximum progress of the country. Due to the restrictions and sanctions and the monopoly of technology and knowledge, it was necessary for Iran to create all the links in the complete chain of the space industry in a native way.

Achieving space and launching satellites as the most difficult link in the space industry chain is based on the two bases of satellite and launch. Two technologies that turn the space program and the development horizon of this industry in the country's program into Korea's missile program.

In fact, the basis of the satellite launch technology of Iran and what made this possibility and success for the country was the strength and achievements of the missile industry of the Armed Forces and the country's defense sector.

It has been 44 years since the beginning of Iran's space program, and it was a year before the revolution and practically nothing happened in that year.

After that, the program was almost stopped for years due to the war and the war-related problems. However, in the 1990s, the country's officials again thought about reviving the program and launching a satellite and using three orbits recorded in space. But in fact, Iran has made big steps in this area in the last two decades, and the country has been able to launch several satellites from initial joint projects to completely indigenous products.

What got the most attention and noise in these projects, however, was not the technology of making the satellite, but Iran's access to its launch technology. Technology that is still in the monopoly of a small and exclusive club.

Four generations of Iranian satellites

Iranian satellites are classified into four generations, of which two generations have been operational, the third generation is in production, and the fourth generation has completed the general study and design process.

Iranian ambassador to space

The Safir-1 (Ambassador in Persian) satellite missile is the first satellite missile manufactured by Iran's aerospace industry. With the construction of this missile, Iran, as the ninth country in the world, has found the ability to send satellites into space. The satellite carrier has more than 10,000 different parts in different components, including engine, body, guidance and control, which experts in various academic disciplines have localized all its components during 10 years of construction.

In addition to launching Kavoshgar-1 into space, this satellite carrier also placed the Iranian-made Omid satellite in 240 km orbit in February 2009.

Simorgh (Phoenix)

Iran's second step in the aerospace industry was to achieve a 500-kilometer orbit, and Simorgh was attracted to this challenge. Various satellites such as Tolo, Payam, Zafar, Pars-1 and Nahid-2 have been considered for this orbit. However, since 2017, after the use of the satellite carrier Simorgh, complete success in reaching this orbit has not been achieved yet.

The Simorgh space launch vehicle is a multi-stage construction of the Ministry of Defense Aerospace Organization, which was unveiled on February 3, 2010, on the occasion of the National Day of Space Technology. This satellite carrier can place a payload weighing up to 250 kg in an orbit of 500 km.

Two attempts to place the Zafar satellite into orbit was failed, but improving performance and eliminating its shortcomings for future launches, remain on the agenda of Iranian experts.

The third generation of these satellites is called the Sarir, which is supposed to place satellites weighing 700 kg in orbit 1000 km above the Earth. The height of the three-stage satellite is 35 meters long.

Soroush, the key to enter a special club

According to the plan, the Soroush satellite is supposed to stabilize Iran's ultimate ability to inject heavy applied payload in a 36,000 km orbit. According to the officials, Soroush is a satellite with a diameter of 4 meters.

It turned out from the images of Iran's spacecraft satellites that were displayed at an exhibition in early 2020, that Soroush is a satellite with a parallel structure, that is, it uses accelerator engines or side boosters.

This structure places Soroush in the ranks of large and heavy space carriers. It has not been announced whether Soroush boosters use solid or liquid fuel, and there is a fact of using both types as lateral accelerator engines in the world.