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Iranian Resistance group alleges Tehran is developing new medium-range ballistic missile

Iranian Resistance group alleges Tehran is developing new medium-range ballistic missile ROBIN HUGHES JDW Deputy Editor

Jane’s Defence Weekly – The Paris-based Iranian opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), claimed in London on 6 March that Iran has developed a longer-range version of its Ghadr 101 medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) and has ramped up production of its Shahab 3 MRBM.

The NCRI is a coalition of exiled opposition groups fiercely opposed to Iran’s clerical rulers. The US State Department lists the NCRI and its armed wing, the People’s Mojahadin Organisation of Iran (MKO), as a terrorist organisation.

Timed to coincide with the International Atomic Energy Agency meeting in Vienna, which includes discussions on Iran’s nuclear programme, the NCRI announcement claimed that the Ghadr 101 development – the Ghadr 110 – follows what they allege to be the cancellation by former Iranian defence minister Admiral Ali Shamkhani of the Shahab 4 MRBM programme.

NCRI spokesman Hossein Abedini claimed that following two launch failures of the Shahab 4 and the high expense of the programme, which he estimated at some USD1 billion, "Shamkhani … ordered this project to be stopped in the last months of [Iran’s reformist president Mohammad] Khatami’s presidency".

"One of the main reasons for this failure was that when the regime tried to increase the range of the missile – the ‘exit system’ and ‘blast section’ did not hold and they exploded," said Abedini, adding that future efforts to acquire a longer range ballistic missile would be invested in the development of the Ghadr 110 MRBM.

When Iran unveiled its military space programme in 1998, the then defence minister, Adm Shamkhani, declared that the future design of Iran’s intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), the Shahab 4, would be capable of launching payloads into orbit. Since then, Iran is believed to have abandoned its Shahab 4 programme and instead presented
and tested in August 2004 a new Shahab 3 design with a greater range capability.

However, Uzi Rubin, former Director of the Israel Ballistic Missile Organisation, expressed scepticism over the NCRI allegations that the Shahab 4 programme had failed. "Other Iranian statements contend that the Shahab 4 programme continues, but that it is a space launcher rather than a ballistic missile.

"The NCRI’s given reason for the termination of the programme is a failure in the propulsion system. The ‘exit system’ is probably the motor nozzle and the ‘blast section’ could be the combustion chamber of the rocket motor. This information tallies with old news items about a rocket motor design that failed. I would speculate that what was terminated was an attempt to fit a new and more powerful rocket motor to the Shahab 3. Perhaps this new combination is what the NCRI refers to as ‘Shahab 4’," said Rubin.

Abedini claimed that some 500 Iranian experts, aided by North Korean experts are now working on the Ghadr 110 – a development of the Ghadr 101 revealed by the NCRI in 2005 – at the Shahid Hemmat Missile Industries Complex, northeast of Tehran, under the command of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps official Nasser Maleki.

The NCRI spokesman claimed that the North Koreans, who are resident in a hotel at the Shahid Hemmat Missile Industries Complex, are assisting with the missile’s guidance system, warhead production and fuel system.

Abedini said that NCRI sources assess the Ghadr 110 development to be 70 per cent complete. "It is estimated that the first product of this missile will be completed in about a year," Abedini said. "This missile, which functions with fluid [liquid] and solid fuel, has a range of 3,000 km. Its design allows [for its range to be] increased. This missile
would be the longest-range missile in the mullah’s arsenal," he added.

Abedeni also alleged that the Ghadr 110, "which has a higher manoeuvrability than Shahab 3", is not copied from a known Russian or [North] Korean missile. "It is also different from Shahab 3 and Shahab 4 missiles. Shahab 3 [technology] is used in production of this missile but there have been many modifications. Ghadr 110 could be compared with advanced ‘Scud’ E [North Korean Taepo Dong-1 or Ro-dong] missiles," he said.

There nevertheless remains some question over whether the Ghadr 110 is a completely new missile programme or a development of the Shahab series of MRBMs. In December last year the NCRI claimed that Tehran, under what it alleged to be a "wider clandestine programme", was developing a new MRBM called the Ghadr 101. US intelligence officials at the time assessed the Ghadr 101 to be is the same as a Shahab 3A/Shahab 4
liquid-fuelled MRBM.

Rubin told Jane’s in December 2005: "The version that was recently tested [in August 2005] and presented in public already deserves the title Shahab 4 as it is completely different from the previous Shahab 3. Everything but the propulsion system was changed, the range was increased, as well as the re-entry vehicle."

He noted that "the claim that ‘Ghadr 110’ has both ‘fluid’ and solid propulsion is confusing. Perhaps they [NCRI] want to say that it is a two-stage missile with one solid and one liquid stage. This is not implausible, but contradicts their following statement that the new missile is comparable to the ‘Scud’ E/Taepo Dong, which is indeed
two-stage, but all liquid [fuelled].

"I believe the NCRI is trying to describe a two-stage missile, the first stage being a Shahab 3 propulsion and fuel tankage, the second stage being either Shahab 2 [‘Scud’ C] propulsion and tankage or a new large diameter solid rocket motor. Such a missile is plausible, will have quite a long range," said Rubin.

Abedini also claimed that, since his election, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had accelerated production of the Shahab 3.

"According to reliable information obtained by the Iranian Resistance, the regime in Iran now possesses more than 300 Shahab 3s in its current inventory … the first production line for the Shahab 3 became operational a few years ago, but its capacity was one to two missiles a month. The major surge [in production] took place within the last year."