A glittering array of super-weapon wonders “with no equivalents in the West” was paraded at the Great Prophet military exercise taking place this week in the Persian Gulf.
Sunday, April 2, an underwater missile that could evade sonar was test-fired. It followed the proud disclosure of a new radar-evading missile carrying multiple warheads and a land-to-sea Kowsar missile with an unjammable guidance system that could sink any ship in the Gulf.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guards running the exercise (first reported by DEBKA-Net-Weekly 238 on March 31) also exhibited a “stealth flying boat.”
Their claims have been met with some skepticism in the West, including by DEBKA-Net–Weekly’s military and Iranian experts, who see much of the bluster as designed more as a fist to shake in the face of the West and impress the Iranian people, than a display of solid superpower-grade military prowess.
The Revolutionary Guards commander, General Yahya Rahim Safavi, boasted that Iranian forces are fully capable of confronting “any outside invasion.”
The only item of hardware taken seriously is the “flying boat” – of which only sketchy details were revealed by the defense ministry in Tehran. The two great advantages of this propeller-driven aircraft, floated on a trimaran hull until it took off and flew low over the surface of the water, are its smallness and speed, which make the hull undetectable by sea and aerial radar.
State television said it could reach speeds of 100 knots and launch missiles precisely in-flight. An aviation website showed the vessel shared features with WIGE vehicles, known to Russians as ekranoplanes.
Unlike the other purported super-weapons exhibited in the Gulf war games, the one-man flying boat is entirely home-made in Iran. Its attributes suggest to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terror experts that the flying boat may have been crafted especially to carry a suicide bomber.
Multiple warhead missiles are an Iranian fantasy
Most of the other hardware proudly displayed in the exercise is judged by our military experts as far short of fully operational, rather still-to-be developed projects on which Iran’s military industries and designers are still at work. Most are based on Russian, Chinese and North Korean technology, which is by and large dated.
Our military sources assert that neither the Fajr-3 (Dawn-3) on display, nor any other ballistic missile in Tehran’s arsenal, have the properties claimed of a simultaneous multi-target strike capability while eluding radar.
What the Iranians are pressing ahead on now is a conventional triple warhead for the Shehab-3 missile. But our military sources report that although preliminary tests took place in the second half of 2005, Iran’s military industry still has no date for a finished operational version of the Shehab-3’s multiple warhead. The main trouble is its guidance system. The five-year project has not yet produced a mechanism that can guide the missile near enough to target.
The “world’s fastest underwater missile” presented at the Great Prophet war games suffers the same guidance shortcoming.
It is based on the Russian BGT class Shkval (Squall), a high-speed underwater missile, which is fired along the path of an incoming enemy torpedo, forcing it to take evasive action and possibly snap the torpedo’s guidance wires. The Russians deployed this weapon until the 1991Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (STARTI) treaty was signed by Presidents Mikhail Gorbachev and George Bush.
It was then dropped from service.
The Russians had armed the high-speed BGT missile with a nuclear warhead to compensate for its poor guidance gear. Winging at a speed of 100 meters per second, the missile could only manage to fly in a straight line to a distance of 11 kilometers, leaving a telltale trail. Any naval target, whether an enemy aircraft carrier or destroyer, could easily spot the missile in time and avoid it by moving a couple of kilometers right or left of its path. The Russians figured that a nuclear warhead blast would damage enemy craft even at that distance.
Well after the Cold War ended, the Americans were still trying to get hold of the Shkval’s design secrets. In a celebrated spy episode, an American businessman and former US Navy intelligence captain called Alexander Pope was picked up in Moscow on April 5, 2000, by agents of the Russian Federal Security Service – FSB. In his possession were technical drawings of equipment, records of conversations with Russians working in the defense industry and receipts for US dollar payments made to them.
Two weeks later, the FSB accused Pope of trying to buy plans of the Shkval underwater missile. Arrested with him was a Russian scientist, one of the missile’s inventors.
Tehran soon to launch a Russian-boosted spy satellite
By then, the Russians had modified the underwater missile and fitted it with a conventional warhead weighing 210-kilo, cutting its maximum range from 11 km to 7 km. Its manufacture was transferred to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and Moscow tried to put the Shkval-E on the world market without much success. At some point, Shkval-E technology – or a complete missile – is presumed to have been stolen by the Chinese and smuggled to Iran.
Even within its limitations, the clerical regime believes that Shkval-E is capable of temporarily blocking the Strait of Hormuz, through which two-fifths of the world’s oil passes, causing enough damage to tanker traffic to hold up oil production in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates. However, attaching to oil tanker convoys escorts of spy satellites, surveillance planes and warships would substantially reduce the missile’s potential for damage.
The Shkval-E missile and the stealth flying boat were displayed prominently on Iranian television to assure the Iranian public that any American or Israeli threats to strike the national nuclear industry would meet a fitting response of Islamic steel and muscle.
The demonstration was also a veiled threat directed to the oil producing nations of the Gulf to drive home Tehran’s leverage on world oil prices.
But the section of Iran’s arms industry kept out of sight in the Great Prophet maneuvers is the one that arouses the most concern in US and Israeli intelligence. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military source, Iran is on the point of launching a military satellite into orbit.
On October 27, 2005, Iran’s Sina-1, built by the Russian Polyot and boosted by the Russian Kosmos 3M, was launched into space. The director of Iran’s electronics industry Ibrahim Mahmoudzadeh maintained at the time that the satellite was built in 32 months, the product of many years of Iranian research. Sina-1, he said, was the first in a series of satellites which he described as designed for photographs and tracking farming and mining regions, but would also be useful in natural disaster emergencies like earthquakes. However, as our military sources point out, there is nothing to stop the Iranian satellites from surveying countries outside Iran, such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Israel.
DEBKA-Weekly‘s military sources add that Iran’s Sina-2 is scheduled for launching with Russian help before the end of April, and Sina-3 by the end of 2006.
US and Israeli intelligence analysts do not doubt that the Sina series has been designed as a satellite support system for the guidance of future ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads.
It must be abundantly clear by now, that Iran’s clerical rulers will not let technological setbacks and delays halt their advance towards a military nuclear option.