Iranian military officials said this week the country has developed a new ballistic missile with a range of about 435 miles.
“We have managed to make land-to-sea ballistic, not cruise, missiles that can hit any vessel or ship from 700 km [435 miles],” Iran’s state-controlled Fars News Agency quoted Amirali Hajizadeh, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) airspace division, as saying on Tuesday, according to Reuters.
Earlier this week Brian Hook, the U.S. special envoy on Iran, said Iran’s ballistic missile program is responsible for escalating tensions in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq. “We are accumulating risk of regional conflict if we do not do more to deter Iran’s missile proliferation in the Middle East,” he noted.
Hajizadeh said that the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged his country 10 years ago to develop the capacity of “hitting ships” with ballistic missiles.
Hajizadeh “did not give details on the previous range of the missiles. In 2008, Iran displayed a ground-to-sea missile that it said could travel about 290 km (180 miles),” Reuters reported.
“Iran has the largest ballistic missile force in the Middle East, with more than 10 ballistic missile systems in its inventory or in development,” Hook told reporters on September 20.
“Its ballistic missile program remains among the most significant challenges to broader nonproliferation efforts in the region and is an enduring threat to our allies and partners, including Israel.”
Analysis: Iran often makes claims about its military capabilities that it can’t back up, and this could be another of those. But what is known is that Iran has been testing ballistic missiles for years, so it’s plausible that it could have developed a missile with this kind of range.
Iran has been principally focused on improving its missile accuracy. In addition, the Iranians have also built a network of underground bunkers and missile silo facilities and are working on improving air defenses so as to better protect its missile forces.
Iran is also believed to be developing ICBMs, and that its space launch program is meant in part to hide this development. “Iran has successfully orbited satellites using its ICBM-class booster as early as this year. In light of these advances, we assess Iran may be able to deploy an operational ICBM by 2020 if the regime chooses to do so,” Adm. Bill Gortney (Ret.), former head of Northern Command, said in March 2016.
In May, The New York Times published a report detailing the existence of a secret missile development facility in the middle of the desert in Iran that had previously gone undetected. Construction of the facility was overseen by Gen. Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam, an Iranian scientist who was killed in a massive explosion at Iran’s long-range missile research facility in 2011.
“The investigation highlights some potentially disturbing developments,” Michael Elleman, a missile expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told the Times. Elleman is one of five independent experts who reviewed material indicating the existence of the secret facility.
And while the evidence Iran could be involved in long-range missile research and development was circumstantial, it could show preliminary steps “for developing an ICBM five to 10 years down the road, should Tehran wish to do so.”
All this said, Iran very well may possess the technology to build medium-range missiles that not only threaten U.S. and allied warships in the Persian Gulf, but all of Saudi Arabia and Israel as well. And if Iran is sharing its technology, then the ballistic missile threat will only grow.
If the Iranians were to attack a U.S. warship in the Gulf, the Trump administration would respond with devastating force, of course. But it’s the weapons we don’t know about that could make Iran a bigger security risk than we realize.