This IISS Strategic Dossier aims to contribute to the policy debate about Iran’s strategic challenges by establishing a shared understanding of the missile programmes.


In tandem with progress in its nuclear programme, Iran is making robust strides in developing ballistic missiles, with the apparent aim of being able to deliver nuclear warheads well beyond its borders. Iran’s modifications of the North Korean No-dong missile, resulting in the longer range Ghadr-1, and its recent success in testing locally produced space-launch vehicles and two-stage solid-propellant missiles have heightened concerns. Yet the worst-case scenario projected at the end of the twentieth century about Iran being able to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the United States within five years has not materialised. 

The IISS Strategic Dossier on Iran’s Ballistic Missile Capabilities: A net assessment aims to contribute to the policy debate about Iran’s strategic challenges by establishing a shared understanding of the missile programmes. Produced by an international team of experts, the dossier offers the most detailed information available in the public domain about Iran’s liquid- and solid-fuelled missiles and its indigenous production capabilities. 

The dossier also analyses the military and strategic effectiveness of Iran’s potential arsenal, including both conventional and non-conventional warheads. By comparing Iran’s progress with that of missile-development programmes elsewhere, the dossier assesses the types of missiles Iran might try to develop in future, how long it could take, and what observable trends and indicators will allow other nations to monitor Iranian progress and to plan appropriate responses. This publication complements the recent IISS Strategic Dossier Iran's Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Capabilities - A net assessment. Both books provide dispassionate, fact-rich analysis to fuel the policy debate on how to deal with the growing crisis over Iran.

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  • Introduction

    In tandem with its efforts to expand its nuclear capabilities, the Islamic Republic of Iran is making robust strides in developing ballistic missiles.  The two programmes arppear to be connected, with the aim of giving Iran the capability to deliver nuclear warheads beyond its borders, though Iran steadfastly denies any interest in nuclear weapons and claims that its missiles are strictly defensive in nature.  In February 2010, the International Atomic...
  • Chapter One: Liquid-Propellant Missiles

    Early in the Iran–Iraq war, the Islamic Republic of Iran relied on long-range artillery, short-range rockets and a limited supply of ground-attack aircraft to satisfy immediate military requirements. However, Tehran’s strategic imperatives called for the capacity to strike targets deep inside Iraq from protected launch points removed from the battlefront. As an immediate solution, Iran purchased Soviet-made Scud-B missiles, first from Libya in 1985, and then from Syria and North...
  • Chapter Two: Solid-Propellant Rockets and Missiles

    As detailed in the previous chapter, Iran’s liquid-propellant missile programmes are dependent on the foreign supply of key components, including antiquated, Soviet-era engines. Any intermediate- and intercontinental-range missiles based on these low-performance engines would be very large, cumbersome, immobile and vulnerable to pre-emption. If Iran were to decide to develop survivable long-range missiles, it would undoubtedly opt for a technology with a higher growth potential, seeking to create a robust...
  • Chapter Three: Comparing Missile-Development Programmes Elsewhere

    Iran has openly displayed, and frequently televised, test launches of several of its missile systems. However, the Islamic Republic has been much less forthcoming about the production of its missiles. Indeed, there is limited public information with which to judge Iran’s missile production industry. It is therefore necessary to examine the missile-development activities of other countries that make details available, and then compare their successes, failures and patterns of development...
  • Chapter Four: Production Capabilities and Future Missile Prospects

    There are five general approaches a country can take to acquire a fleet of ballistic missiles. It can: Import complete missiles and the necessary supporting infrastructure for fielding and operating the systems, including launch vehicles, propellant transport trucks, storage and maintenance facilities, and training; Import key missile components that cannot be produced indigenously and assemble them using a mix of imported and domestically produced subsystems; Secure a licensed production line from...
  • Chapter Five: Deployment, Use and Warhead Options

    Various sources estimate that Iran has approximately 200–300 Shahab-1 and -2 missiles, and 25–100 Shahab-3/Ghadr-1 systems. One report in February 2010, relying on Israeli sources, claimed that Iran has up to 300 Shahab-3 missiles. But these estimates are all speculative. The Shahab-1 and -2 estimates appear to be based on the number of Scud-B and -C missiles imported from North Korea. However, such figures would not include missiles that Iran...
  • Summary

    Iran’s acquisition of ballistic-missile technologies began in the mid-1980s, when it purchased a limited number of liquid-fuelled, Scud-Bs from several foreign sources to satisfy an immediate wartime need. The perceived success of Scud-B missile attacks during its war with Iraq led Iran to purchase additional 300km-range Scud-Bs (Shahab-1), 500km-range Scud-Cs (Shahab-2), and longer-range No-dong (Shahab-3) missiles from North Korea, beginning in the late 1980s and extending to the mid-1990s. Based...
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Strategic Dossiers

Iran's Ballistic Missile Capabilities: A net assessment

Offers the most detailed information available in the public domain about Iran’s liquid- and solid-fuelled missiles and its indigenous production capabilities and analyses the military and strategic effectiveness of Iran’s potential arsenal.

Strategic Dossier Press

Iran's Ballistic Missile Capabilities

Press releases for the launch of this Strategic Dossier are available in EnglishArabic and Russian

Press statements for the launch of this Strategic Dossier are also available in EnglishArabic
 and Russian

Strategic Dossiers

Harnessing the Institute's technical expertise to present detailed information on the key strategic issues.