Iran's Ballistic Missile Program
- Iran has the largest and most diverse ballistic missile arsenal in the Middle East. (Israel has more capable ballistic missiles, but fewer in number and type.) Most were acquired from foreign sources, notably North Korea. The Islamic Republic is the only country to develop a 2,000-km missile without first having a nuclear weapons capability.
- Iran is still dependent on foreign suppliers for key ingredients, components and equipment, but it should eventually be able to develop long-range missiles over time, including an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile or ICBM.
- The military utility of Iran’s current ballistic missiles is limited because of poor accuracy, so missiles are not likely to be decisive if armed with conventional, chemical or biological warheads. But Tehran could use its missiles as a political or psychological weapon to terrorize an adversary’s cities and pressure its government.
- Iran should not be able to strike Western Europe before 2017 or the United States before 2020—at the earliest.
- Iran’s space program, which includes the successful launch of a small, crude satellite into low earth orbit using the Safir carrier rocket, proves the country’s growing ambitions and technical prowess.
- Iran has invested at least $1 billion in its missile programs since 2000, according to “Iran's Ballistic Missile Capabilities: A Net Assessment.”
- Iran’s space program aspires to place an astronaut into earth’s orbit. Development of the Simorgh launcher is a key step towards this objective.
- Iran’s universities and other technical centers are conducting basic and applied research in support of the missile and space launcher development programs.
- Although Iran’s ballistic missiles are too inaccurate to be militarily effective when armed with conventional warheads, the regime likely believes that the missiles can deter and possibly intimidate its regional adversaries, regardless of warhead type.
- Iran’s advanced engineering capabilities and commitment to missile and space launcher programs are likely, over time, to lead to development of additional missile systems. Export controls will slow, but not stop progress.
- There is no strong evidence that Iran is actively developing an intermediate-range or intercontinental ballistic missile. And a new system can’t be deployed out of the blue. If Iran decides to pursue an intermediate-range capability, the necessary flight testing will provide a three-to-five year window for developing countermeasures.
This chapter was originally published in 2010, and is updated as of August 2015.
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"The Iran Primer"--Book Overview
The world’s most comprehensive website on Iran, “The Primer” brings together 50 experts—Western and Iranian—in concise chapters on politics, economy, military, foreign policy, and the nuclear program. It chronicles events under six U.S. presidents. It also has leader bios, timelines, data on nuclear sites—and context for what lies ahead. New articles are added at the top.