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Iranian Missiles


Shahab-3D Appearance

The Shahab-3D is not the Shahab-3 nor is it the Iranian Shahab-4, better known as the North Korean Taep'o-dong-1/NKSL-1 which has a range of 1,240 miles (1,995.16 km) but is perhaps one of several other possibilities. The Iranian statement that the Shahab-3D was powered by both liquid and solid propellant suggest that this is indeed a different missile design from the Shahab-3 which is known to be based on the North Korean No-dong design a single stage liquid propellant ballistic missile. It is also known that the Shahab-3 single engine is started by a solid propellant cartage that is expended ever before lift off. This however does not explain the introduction of solid propellant on this launch vehicle variant. This indication of the presence of solid propellant suggest the introduction of the Iranian "IRIS" so called satellite launch vehicle or at least its precursor for the Iranian space program "IRIS" launch vehicle.

To date the only imagery publicly released of the Shahab-3, 3D flight tests by Iran has all been shown from the same position on the same facility. This brings into question whether it is the same video from the same first test launch of Shahab-3 since it is known that none of the launches have come from the same facility verses the Shahab-3D which is known to have been launched from a different space launch facility. This video does however reveal that the Shahab-3 requires many additional support vehicles for propellant transport and loading and power besides its Transport Erector Launcher (TEL). A through review of the existing publicly available video has revealed that Iran has only shown the same first flight of the Shahab-3 video repeatedly on its news programs. No TV video of the Shahab-3D launch has been identified as of this writing.

However, it is known that the Shahab-3, North Korea's No-Dong is not capable of covering all of Israel but modified perhaps with a lighter warhead and or an additional small solid motor could extend that range to accomplish that mission. The source of the solid motor technology for the Shahab-4 & 5 is in all probability China through a "Know How", technology transfer agreement requested by Iran.

IRIS - The First Possible Appearance of "IRIS"/IRSL-X-1 Space Booster?

There is however another possibility that may not have been considered for Shahab-3D. Iran is committed to the development of the space booster "IRIS". The IRIS launch vehicle apparently consists of the No-dong/Shahab-3 first stage with a bulbous front section ultimately designed to carry an additional second stage solid motor as well as a communications satellite or scientific payload.

The IRIS launch vehicle is a space related derivation of the Shahab-3 ballistic missile. A launch vehicle of this configuration is ideal as a vertical probe sounding rocket for ballistic missile warhead re-entry vehicle development. It would almost certainly not be capable of launching a satellite of appreciable mass or capability unless it were intended to be a second and third stage of a larger launch vehicle. If the Shahab-3D launch was an IRIS launch vehicle test, then it was the first flight test of the Taep'o-dong-2/Shahab-5 second and third stages part of a space booster concept that Iran is said to be developing. The IRIS launch vehicle concept was first seen on public displays in model form in an Iranian aerospace show. This flight test failure may have caused a serious delay in the development program for the Taep'o-dong-2/Shahab-5 launch vehicle program. Only time will answer this open question.

Presumably a ballistic missile version of this could also be developed which may explain the Shahab-3D variant. The description of a Solid propellant upper stage on top of a know No-dong/Shahab-3 design certainly fits the IRIS displayed design. It is not unusual for a nation to flight test the upper stages of a new booster as a testing procedure that has been used in both the East and West to expedite the development of a future larger space booster before flying the entire stack.

The Shahab-3D does however very strongly resemble the North Korean Taep'o-dong-2 second and third stages. Could it be that the Shahab-3D is in-fact a modified variant of the IRIS space related booster undergoing its first flight test? Is this in-turn Iran's contribution to North Korea's Taep'o-dong-2 space booster ballistic missile program and their own Shahab-5 space booster or ballistic missile? To a degree it could suggest that Iran is working on the second and third stages of the Taep'o-dong-2 launch vehicle with North Korea while they both have apparently made contributions to the larger new Taep'o-dong-2 first stage. Recently North Korea static test fired that new first stage on the rebuilt Taep'o-dong-1 now Taep'o-dong-2 launch pad, gantry umbilical tower facility between June 26 and July 2, 2001.

It is known that the Shahab-3D failed shortly after launch. This was well before the first stage would have completed its 110 seconds burn when the aerodynamic shroud would have been jettisoned and the solid motor second stage would have ignited regardless of its true design configuration and the actual payload flown. Presently that is unclear based on the available public information released to date. In general IRIS is believed to be waiting for Shahab-5 to fulfill its real goal.

Build-up and Flight Test Analysis

The week before the September 8th 2000 Iran attempted to launch the new variant of the Shahab-3 ballistic missile the Shahab-3D missile but apparently had some trouble during the attempts build up as noted in The Washington Times on September 8, 2000 ---"delayed from the previous week "---. ---"test expected later this month"---.(1)

On September 22, 2000 both the Associated Press and the Washington Times noted the following new information: "Iran has successfully test-fired its first solid-liquid fueled missile, which the Defense Minister said was part of a program for launching satellites, ----." (2) The Washington Times added that the Iranian had tested the Shahab-3 MRBM for a third time, but that "the rocket exploded shortly after liftoff, U. S. Intelligence officials said ." "Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani told the official IRNA News Agency that the test of the Shahab-3D-----". The Iranian spokesman went on to say that the missile was "solid and liquid fueled" and will be used only for launching communications satellites and not warheads."(3)

Jane's Intelligence Review on Sept. 21 also noted the following that, the Sept. 21, 2000 flight test was a failure according to U. S. officials. It was flown from near the city of Semnan. (4) The description of this Shahab-3D launch failure certainly suggest that the Iranians are having considerable development trouble with their domestically produced Shahab-3 liquid propellant engines and or their related systems. This same kind of engine or engine related systems failure along with instrumentation and or guidance failure could also account for the first Shahab-3 launch failure. In almost all cases they give hints of serious quality control problems leading to in flight launch failure during the first stage engine burn.

On September 21, 2000 during testimony before the U.S Senate Mr. Walpole National Intelligence officer for Strategic and nuclear programs discussed the Shahab-3D first launch.

Mr. Walpole " Iran's Defense minister announced the Shahab-4, originally calling it a more capable ballistic missile than the Shahab-3, but later categorizing it as a space launch vehicle with no military applications.

Tehran also mentioned plans for the Shahab-5 strongly suggesting that it intends to develop even longer-range systems in the near future.

Iran has displayed a mock-up satellite and space launch vehicle (IRIS), suggesting it plans to develop a vehicle to orbit Iranian satellites------- Most believe that Iran could develop and test a three-stage Taep'o-dong-2 type ICBM during this same time frame, possibly with North Korean assistance. -----ICBM booster capability and that a Taep'o-dong-type system tested as a space launch vehicle would be the shortest path top that goal.

TD-1 could be developed patterned after the NK approach or use it as a test bet to TD-2 etc. TD-1 is the test bed for the TD-2 larger technology.

Iran is insisting on the development of an indigenous effort, which takes longer to develop.

Sen. Cochran,

"As we have said in open session before, Iran procured No-dong and then sought Russian assistance to modify that into the Shahab-3, which is a little different approach than Pakistan used to get the Ghauri, which is also a No-dong. They did not mind trying to change it. They just decided to change its name and buy them outright." (5)

Sources and Methods

  1. Gertz, Bill, "Iran set for another flight test of missile", The Washington Times, 8, Sept. 2000, pp. 1 & A20.
  2. "Iran test-fires missile", AP article, 22, Sept. 2000.
  3. Gertz, Bill, "Iran's missile test fails after takeoff", The Washington Times, 22, Sept. 2000, p. A5.
  4. Koch, Andrew, Third Iranian Shahab test "a fizzle", Jane's Intelligence Review, Nov. 2000, p. 5.
  5. Iran's Ballistic Missile and Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs, Hearing before the International Security, Proliferation, and Federal Services Subcommittee of the Committee on Governmental Affairs, United States Senate, September 21, 2000

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