Information Warfare: Hype My Pride


August 21,2008:  Iran has outdone itself in the last month, announcing three breakthroughs in military technology, describing new systems that, on close examination amount to, well, nothing. First there was the announcement of a new robotic submarine. No details were given, but it was soon discovered that such devices are available on the commercial market, mainly for scientific research. Some nations buy them for military purposes. Apparently Iranian submarine designers know how to use Google, but their counterparts in the publicity department did not.

Then came the announcement of having combat aircraft that can fly 3,000 kilometers without refueling. Amazing? No, as Iran has had such aircraft (the U.S. F-4 fighter) for over thirty years. What were the Iranians thinking when they issued this press release?

Then came last weeks ballistic missile launch, which the Iranians touted as a successful test of a satellite launcher. Up until now, Iran has been buying satellite launching services from Russia (as does the United States and many other countries). The reality, as monitored by the radars of U.S. warships off the Iranian coast, was a launch failure. When the missile reached an altitude of about 16 kilometers, it broke up as the second stage fired. Information later leaked out of Iran that the missile was carrying a low tech communications satellite. Apparently even the Iranians were not willing to entrust this new version of their Safir ballistic missile with an expensive satellite. The real mystery here is, why go ahead with these lies when it is so obvious that the truth will eventually come out? Apparently the Iranians believe that the initial lie will impress more people, than the eventual debunking will even reach. The Iranian religious dictatorship is preaching to their base, which tends to be poorly educated and suspicious of anyone who would criticize their religious leaders.

All this phony hype is nothing new. It's been going on for years. Earlier this year, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), announced that they had flight tested a new, Iranian made, helicopter gunship. They also announced a new UAV with a range of 2,000 kilometers. Late last year, the Iranians showed off a new Iranian made jet fighter, which appeared to be a make-work project for unemployed engineers. It's a bunch of rearranged parts on an old U.S. made F-5 (which was roughly equivalent to a 1950s era MiG-21). The new fighter, like so many other Iranian weapons projects, is more for PR than for improving military power.

If you go back and look at the many Iranian announcements of newly developed, high tech, weapons, all you find is a photo op for a prototype. Production versions of these weapons rarely show up.   Iranians know that, while the clerics and politicians talk a tough game, they rarely do anything. Even Iranian support of Islamic terrorism has been far less effective than the rhetoric. The Iranians have always been cautious, which is one reason Arabs fear them. When the Iranians do make their move, it tends to be decisive. But at the moment, the Iranians have no means to make a decisive move. Their military is mostly myth, having been run down by decades of sanctions, and the disruptions of the 1980s war with Iraq. Their most effective weapon is bluster, and, so far, it appears to be working.

But the Iranians know that nuclear weapons would make their bluff and bluster even more muscular. Even the suspicion that they had nukes would be beneficial. And that appears to be the current plan. One new weapon the Iranians do put a lot of money and effort into are ballistic missiles. They are building an extended range (from 1,300 to 1,800 kilometer) version of their Shahab 3 ballistic missile. The new version puts all of Israel within range, even if fired from deep inside Iran. Chemical warheads (with nerve gas) are thought to be available for these missiles. But Israel has threatened to reply with nuclear weapons if the Iranians attack this way. Iran would probably get the worst of such an exchange, and the Iranians are aware of it.

Not all of the clerics that run the country are eager to go to war with Israel, or even threaten it. But because the clerical factions do not want to appear at odds with each other in public, the more radical leaders are allowed to rant away about attacking Israel. That's also the thinking behind the many IRGC press conferences announcing imaginary new weapons. The clerics are not going spend billions on mass production of second rate systems that are most notable for being designed in Iran.


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