By Douglas Barrie, Senior Fellow for Military Aerospace
Iran's continued development and testing of ballistic missiles is understandably a focus for the United States, the other nuclear-deal partners and the Gulf states. Two other recent missile developments, however, are also worthy of attention, as will be in the medium term any change in emphasis regarding Tehran's ballistic and 'conventional' weaponry.
The latest firing, on 29 January 2017, of a yet-to-be-identified type of ballistic missile – Iran called it the Khorramshahr – only stresses further the relationship between Iran and the new US administration. But it does not technically breach the UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR 2231). This missile test reportedly also coincided with what may have been the first end-to-end firing of the Soumar cruise missile. The Die Welt newspaper cited German intelligence officials as claiming the cruise missile was tested at a range of 600 kilometres.
When unveiled in March 2015, Soumar's design heritage was clear – the missile used a Russian-designed Kh-55 (AS-15 Kent) airframe. Tehran acquired at least six of the missile airframes from Ukraine in 2001, perhaps along with some engines. The Russian aerospace forces field the Kh-55 in two variants – the nuclear-armed Kh-55SM (AS-15B) and a conventional derivative, the Kh-555 (AS-22). The latter version can be identified by the fixed and asymmetric strakes on the nose section, an aerodynamic modification required as a result of replacing a lighter nuclear payload with a heavier conventional explosive.
The basic Kh-55 has a maximum range in the order of 2,500km; considerably longer than the reported Soumar test. Assuming the accuracy of the German report with regard to a 600km trial, this raises at least a question as to why the missile might not have been tested at its nominal maximum range. This would not have required a larger test-range, but rather placing the weapon in a race-track pattern for part of the flight time.
The use of a turbojet rather than a turbofan engine would impact the range, given the latter is considerably more fuel efficient, if a more demanding technology to master. Iran appears to be able to produce small turbojet engines: the Toulloue family is likely a copy of the French TRI-60 turbojet.
The third missile to have recently re-emerged in Iran displayed at the start of February and is at the other end of the physical scale, but though this does not necessarily make it unproblematic for adversaries. Tehran showed what it called the Misagh-3 shoulder-launched man-portable surface-to-air missile. The weapon is similar to the Chinese QW-18, although the fuse configuration is notably different. The original Misagh is similar to the Chinse QW-1.
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