Israel’s Channel 10 reports that Iran has tripled the number of medium-range missiles in its arsenal.
According to the report, Iran possessed 30 Shahab-3 missiles at the beginning of 2008. Currently, the country claims to have over 100 over long-range missiles capable of hitting Israel.
While the ability of the Islamic Republic to strike any point in Israel has long been known, this latest build-up potentially points to an Iranian intent to launch a protracted counter-strike against those who seek to destroy its nuclear program.
The claim was reprinted by the Jerusalem Post, which has been unable to confirm the report.
While Iran has been working feverishly to expand its missile inventory, it would be helpful to know the types of missiles included in the count. The “Shahab” designator is used for a family of missiles and space launch vehicles, with a maximum range of 1300-1600 km, depending on the variant.
Based on the North Korean “No Dong” design, most Shahab models are powered by liquid-fueled engines, although Iran has reportedly test both a solid-fuel version and even a hybrid variant, using both liquid and solid fuel technology. Intelligence analysts believe that most of Iran’s medium-range missiles are still liquid fueled, giving them a longer reaction time that solid-fueled systems, and making them more vulnerable to accidents.
Indeed, Tehran’s missile program has been beset by failures–airframes that explode in flight, or don’t achieve their advertised range. Additionally, there have been reported problems with missile launchers. Some accounts suggest that most of Iran’s Shahab launchers cannot raise a fully-fueled missile to launch position. That means a longer preparation time–and a greater chance of being detected.
The launcher issue is an important consideration for any mobile missile force. Normally, there are three to four times the number of missile airframes, in comparison to the launcher inventory. Sustaining a missile offensive hinges, to a large degree, on maintaining a viable launcher force, with a rapid reload capability–and the tactics to prevent detection of missiles in the field.
Tracking down mobile missiles remains a challenge, despite improvements in technology. A few years back, the Israelis reported great difficulty in locating missile TELs (transporter-erector-launchers) within their borders–an area that’s only a fraction the size of Iran. Compounding the the problem? The IAF’s limited ability to sustain an air campaign, against targets more than 1,000 miles away.
At this point, Tehran still lacks the ability to mount a continuous missile and rocket barrage against Israel, as Hizballah did in the summer of 2006. But that’s not necessarily a requirement for Iran. With a chemical or nuclear warhead, Tehran needs to put only one missile on target. But that reality is tempered by another fact; Israel still retains its own, massive counter-strike capability, with an arsenal that includes an estimated 200 nuclear warheads.