Strategic Weapons: August 20, 2004

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On August 11, Iran ran a test of its ballistic missile command and control system. Officials in the capital transmitted a launch order to a missile base in the center of Iran. The order was received and the Shihab 3 missile was taken out of its shelter, erected, fueled and readied for launch. The missile was not actually launched, as the test was to see if the command and control system worked, which it apparently did. The Shihab 3 is actually the North Korean Nodong 1 missile, which was also sold to Pakistan, where it is called the Hatf 5. The Nodong 1 is basically a scaled up Russian SCUD missile, which, in turn was based on the first military ballistic missile, the German World War II V-2. Iran is believed to have paid $20 million for each of the North Korean Nodong 1s. 

These ten ton missiles are complex beasts, as they use liquid fuel. The biggest problem with the Nodong 1 is the primitive guidance system, which, on a good day, will land the missile about a kilometer from what it is aimed at. This is why both North Korea and Iran are developing nuclear warheads. The warhead of the Nodong 1/ Shihab 3/Hatf 2 can carry about 1700 pounds. Irans first nuclear weapon will probably weigh more than that, and unless they get some technical help from experienced nuclear weapons engineers (which only the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France possess), it will take them several years, at least, to solve the problems of building a nuclear warhead small, and rugged, enough to work in a ballistic missile warhead. 

Meanwhile, Iran is trying to get Russia to provide all the missile technology needed to complete the Shihad 4, a larger, and more accurate, missile with a 2,000 kilometer range. Eventually, Iran wants to build a ballistic missile that could reach the United States. But at the rate they are going, this will take a decade or more. In the meantime, Iran continues to buy its Nodong 1/Shihab 3 missiles, and missile components, from North Korea. The missiles are broken down into components, and flown in, on leased Russian IL-76 transports. Iran does not want to risk having ballistic missiles shipped by sea seized by American warships. 

 


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