Iran’s Missile Tests: 2017

Khamenei with military leaders
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei with military leaders

Since President Donald Trump took office, Iran has conducted two ballistic missile tests to varying degrees of success. It also tested a rocket space-launch vehicle that can deliver satellites into orbit. Iran has the largest and most diverse ballistic missile arsenal in the region, according to former U.N. weapons inspector Michael Elleman. The program is controversial because Tehran possesses multiple missiles that, in theory, are capable of delivering a nuclear payload. Also, Iran’s missiles can reach targets throughout the Persian Gulf, all of the Levant, including Israel, Turkey and parts of southern Europe.

The United States has argued that Iran’s missile tests are in defiance of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, which calls upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons. Washington has imposed sanctions on individuals and firms for supporting Tehran’s ballistic missile program. Iranian officials, however, have consistently stressed that their missiles are for defensive purposes only. “They are not designed to be capable of carrying nuclear weapons,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told The New Yorker in 2016. Despite the claims, the Washington has imposed sanctions against dozens of individuals and entities for supporting Tehran’s ballistic missile program. Missiles are a particularly important part of Iran’s deterrent strategy because its air force is relatively weak. Iran’s tests and statements on its missile program since the start of 2017 are outlined below:

November 25: Brigadier General Hossein Salami, the deputy commander of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), warned that Iran would increase the range of its missiles if Europe threatens it. The remark came after France called for an “uncompromising” dialogue with Iran about its ballistic missile program.

October 31: The commander of the IRGC, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, said that Iran had no need to increase its missiles’ range. “Our missiles’ range is 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles), and that can be increased, but we believe this range is enough for the Islamic Republic as most of the U.S. forces and most of their interests in the region are within this range,” he said, according to Tasnim news agency. He, however, warned, that increased sanctions would prompt Iran to build more missiles and improve their precision.

July 27: Iran announced the launch of a rocket that can deliver satellites weighing 550 pounds (250kg) into space from the Imam Khomeini National Space Station. A mock-up of the rocket space-launch vehicle (SLV), dubbed Simorgh, was originally revealed in 2010. Two U.S. officials told Fox News that it suffered a “catastrophic failure” shortly after liftoff and likely blew up. But Iran claimed it was a successful test.


The Simorgh is the largest rocket built by Iran, but is ill-suited for use as a long-range missile, according to Ellemen. “No country has ever converted a satellite launcher in a ballistic missile, for good reasons. They use different trajectories,” he wrote. Others saw the test as a greater threat. “In this region, Iran has successfully orbited small satellites and announced plans to orbit a larger satellite using the Simorgh space-launch vehicle, which could be configured to be an ICBM,” Scott Kripowicz of the directorate for international affairs at the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency said at a conference in Israel on July 28. “Progress in Iran's space program could shorten the pathway to an ICBM, as space-launch vehicles use similar technologies, with the exception of their payloads,” he added.

The test was not a direct violation of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) or U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, as the measure only calls upon Iran to refrain from activity involving ballistic missiles that are “designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.” The United States, the United Kingdom, France and Germany, however, issued a joint statement condemning the Simorgh launch, saying “Iran has again demonstrated activity inconsistent with U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231.”

Early March: Iran test-fired a pair of Fateh-110 short-range ballistic missiles. It was the first test of this missile type in two years. One missile destroyed a floating target approximately 155 miles (250 km) away. The sea-launched ballistic missile, dubbed Hormuz 2, is capable of hitting floating targets within a range of 300 km, according to Fars News Agency. It was unclear if this was the first successful sea test for Iran.

January 29: Iran test launched a medium-range ballistic missile from a site near Semnan, east of Tehran. U.S. defense officials said the test seemed to be a failure because the missile crashed or exploded after flying more than 500 miles. The last time this type of missile was test launched was in July 2016. Following the failed test, the United States called for an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting, which was held on January 31, to discuss the matter. On February 1, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn officially put the Islamic Republic “on notice.” President Trump echoed Flynn's remarks in tweets.