Iran sends rocket into space; improves its missile capabilities


Iran has launched a new Kavoshgar-4 rocket and space capsule designed to carry a monkey into orbit in another sign of Iran’s strengthening military capabilities, which include the production of an anti-ship ballistic missile.

The rocket and space capsule were launched last Tuesday, Iran’s state-run news agency reported. The launch is an important milestone along the path of Iran’s emerging space programme and a worrying sign for foreign nations fearing Iran’s space aims could be turned used for military purposes, Fox News reports.

In February last year Iran launched two turtles, a rat and a worm aboard its Kavoshgar-3 rocket and in 2009 Iran’s space agency launched a telecommunications satellite aboard the Safir-2 rocket.

The space capsule and Kavoshgar-4 rocket were unveiled by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in February. “We should reach a point where we will be able to provide our knowledge and technology in the aerospace field to other countries,” he said in a speech. At the same time Tehran unveiled the Simorgh rocket able to launch a 100 kg satellite into a 500 km orbit.

Iran aims to launch a human into space by 2020 and land an astronaut on the moon by 2025. It also plans to put several experimental, observation and communication satellites into orbit by March next year and aims to launch geostationary satellites (with a 35 000 km orbit) within five or six years.

Although Iran is not engaged in any military conflict, it is on constant alert against possible attacks from the United States and Israel, which have not ruled out possible pre-emptive strikes to stop Tehran getting nuclear weapons.

Although Iran denies using its space programme for military aims, the West fears that the country is moving towards developing a nuclear ballistic missile. The Untied States called the launch of the Kavoshgar-3 a ‘provocative act’, Fox News reports. Last year a US Department of Defence report suggested that Iran ‘could probably’ develop and test an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States by 2015.
“They will clearly use dual-use technology for a military buildup,” Joan Johnson-Freese, a professor of National Security Studies at the Naval War College, told in November last year.

Iran has unveiled a number of weapons that have caused concern in the West. Last month Iran announced it was launching mass production of new ballistic missiles. According to Chief Commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), Brigadier General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the new Khalije Fars (‘Persian Gulf’) missile has a speed of Mach 3 and a range of 300 km. “The IRGC’s smart ballistic missiles are now in mass production and this type of missile can hit and destroy targets with high precision,” he stated during a press conference in Tehran.

Jafari said the ballistic missile was capable of striking ships and that Iran had successfully test fired it on February 7, when it scored a direct hit on its target vessel. “These missiles are ultrasonic and can never be detected and intercepted by the enemies,” Jafari said. “The result of these defence projects is a very long leap in maintaining the security of the country in the sky and in the sea.”

Since the 1980s, Iran has been actively developing a ballistic missile capability. This began with the importation of Scud missiles and their subsequent modification and improvement. Today it’s estimated that Iran has between 200 and 300 Shahab-1 and Shahab-2 missiles, which are based on the 300-500 km range Scuds. With the Shahab-3, commissioned in 2003, Iran can hit targets 900 km from its borders.

Modification of Scuds led to its current development of the solid-fueled Sajjil-2. The Sajjil-2, which was first flight-tested in 2008, is expected to have a range of approximately 2 200 kilometres. It is expected to be operational within the next few years, the Institute for Security Studies reports. An earlier liquid-fuelled missile, the Ghadr-1, can reach Turkey, Israel, and southern Russia with its 1 600-kilometer range, according to Arms Control. It began flight testing in 2004.

China, which has developed its own anti-ship ballistic missile (the DF-21D), may have assisted Iran with its anti-ship ballistic missile project. The Asian national already gives a large amount of military assistance to the country and in April last year inaugurated a missile plant in Iran. The factory assembles Nasr-1 (Victory 1) anti-ship missiles, which are identical to China’s C-704 anti-ship missiles. Iran has also improved China’s C-802 missile (a follow-on to the C-801, said to be derived from the French Exocet), to produce the Noor. With Chinese assistance, Iran has the ability to exert a considerable degree of control over water in the Persian Gulf region, according to UPI. China has a strategic interest in Iran as it imports around 12% of its oil from the Middle Eastern country.

Meanwhile, this week the Iranian Air Force launched a squadron of its domestically produced Saequeh fighter jets, according to Xinhua. “The production of this kind of aircraft has been developing at high speed, and a squadron of these fighter jets has been launched,” Iran’s state-run Press TV quoted General Mohammad Alavi, the Air Rorce’s deputy commander operations, as saying.

The Saequeh is based on the Northrop F-5 and Iranian Azarakhsh fighters. It first flew in July 2004 and was introduced to service in September 2007. Iran has also built its own transport aircraft (reminiscent of the Antonov An-140) and helicopters, which appear to be based on Bell designs.

Iran has launched a campaign for self-sufficiency in the country’s defence industries and initiated numerous military hardware projects, including some to produce aerial and maritime military vehicles such as submarines, combat frigates, and various types of missiles.