Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Amazing Stealth Missile?

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I used to love to read PRAVDA, the old Soviet newspaper from Tass which proclaimed the glories of the Communist system, usually by departing from reality. Of particular interest to me, was the way in which the latest harvest or production numbers always exceeded previous records, which is to say ignored the past entirely. I suspect PRAVDA saved on its operating costs by ignoring any sense of an Archive. The comedy act was so successful that other nations emulated it, most notably Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, aka Baghdad Bob, the Iraqi Ministry of Information spokesman whose assurances that “They hold no place in Iraq. This is an illusion” as Coalition forces entered Baghdad demonstrated the delusion in Saddam’s regime. I wondered who, if anyone, could match that keen ability to avoid the truth. Now we have a new contender.

The government of Iran test-fired a missile on Saturday, which they claimed could not be detected by radar, and which could deploy multiple warheads. If true, this would significantly raise the stakes in Iran’s bid to build a nuclear warhead to place on those missiles, but the claim struck me as strange.

The Fajr-3, or “Victory” missile, is claimed to be able to reach Israel and/or U.S. bases in the Middle East, again according to Iranian claims. But the actual information does not really bear out the claims. The Fajr-3 was fired underwater, which indicates submarine launching, a sophisticated method and a strategic trump for nuclear planning. Unfortunately for Iran, even if we were to grant the development claims for the missile, the known limits of Iran’s submarine fleet makes it hard to believe that they have developed an effective delivery system for submarine-based missiles.

Also in doubt are the claims of Iran regarding the missile. For instance, the ability to deliver multiple warheads has raised concerns that Iran wants a MIRV-ICBM. However, nothing even in Iran’s claims demonstrates the kind of range or coordinated telemmetry necessary to make such a technology leap. The likelihood is much stronger that Iran wants an MLRS system, still an advance and a threat, but on a much smaller scale. As to evading radar, a number of signal-absorbing paints are known to reduce the signature of missiles, but there remain fundamental problems to cloaking a missile from detection, most obviously the heat plume. Location and direction of any significant missile can be determined by simple thermal satellites, of which there are hundreds already in place. In plain English, even a missile which is difficult to track by radar can be tracked with thermal imaging, magnetic anomoly detectors, sonic wave disruption patterns, and other methods.

Iran also claimed to have successfully tested a 223-mph torpedo, called the “Hoot”. Again, the lack of details raises doubts as to the veracity of the claim, especially the complete absence of tracking and targeting systems for the weapon. It’s awfully hard to be impressed with a fast weapon, if there is little confidence it will hit the target. Further, individual weapons are not as great a threat as a comprehensive force development, which has also not been shown to exist in Iran.

What does this development mean, then? The most likely scenario is quite simple, actually - the military sees a chance to gain reputation in Iran, and the Army and Navy are beginning inter-service skirmishing to claim precedence. Because there is no comprehensive national strategic doctrine in place for Iran, the result is a hodge-podge of officers and agencies fighting for attention and funding. It means developing an advanced torpedo and SL missile, but not the submarine platform it needs to be viable. It means pursuing nuclear weapons, but not developing a hierarchy of command authority, or performing game tests to determine the desired scale and deployment pattern. It means threatening neighboring countries with aggression, but not developing a response doctrine if one of those countries chooses to respond in force. I have compared the Ahmadenijad regime in Iran to the Hitler regime in Germany, but there are important differences, not least the fact that the Germans had a professional corps of military officers and engineers, skilled and experienced in modern warfare as their world knew it. Iran, while fortunate to have some brilliant minds at its disposal, has not developed a comprehensive means for waging a war, whether in defense or conquest. This latest announcement appears to me little more than another attempt by Iran to scare away potential enemies while it begins to put the pieces together.

1 comment:

tfhr said...

Its all part of an IO campaign and they will be successful because there is no effective counter to the BS Iran puts out through their own media and with the help of western media. Information operations is where we are least effective in the Global War on Terrorism. That is a strategic failure on our part and Iran knows it.

Its a good post but I disagree with this comment: "Iran, ...has not developed a comprehensive means for waging a war, whether in defense or conquest."

Oh yes they have, it is called Hezbollah. You're obviously up to speed on Iran's conventional military efforts but you have to look at Hezbollah as Iran's strategic offensive arm. They've controlled much of Lebanon for decades and their influence and utility is much greater than that. It is global in scope and reach and it targets western IO vulnerabilities and much more. Being able to strike terror in western cities is worth much more to Iran than sending it's army or navy off to die.

The domestic conventional weapons program, at least at this stage, produces props for parades better than anything else. While parades are just about all Iran's conventional forces are useful for at this point, keep an eye out for the asymmetric threat and of course, the ever popular nuclear option.