January 6th, 2012
09:43 AM ET

How dangerous are Iran’s missiles?

Editor’s Note: This is an edited version of an article from the ‘Oxford Analytica Daily Brief’. Oxford Analytica is a global analysis and advisory firm that draws on a worldwide network of experts to advise its clients on their strategy and performance.

Iranian Revolutionary Guard navy commander Admiral Ali Fadavi announced yesterday that the country will hold a new exercise in the Strait of Hormuz in February. The planned war games will follow an exercise earlier this week in which Iran launched three anti-ship missiles. The firing of a handful of missiles for media effect is not necessarily significant - but the threat they represent is. Their overt use was intended as a signal to Washington that U.S. naval assets cannot operate with impunity near Iranian waters, especially in the event (however unlikely) that Tehran carries out its threat to close the Strait.

Iran has a fairly well-developed indigenous capacity to produce missiles, with particular strength in anti-ship and ballistic designs. Technical help has come from North Korea in exchange for Iranian investment to bankroll the necessary research. China has also had input, and Iranian scientists have been adapting and improving Chinese designs.

The naval exercise earlier this week showcased two new assets. The Qader is a domestically produced system with a range of 200 kilometres, designed to be launched from either sea or land to hit large surface vessels. It is a sea-skimming missile; is not ballistic and cannot carry a nuclear warhead. The Noor missile is similar to the Qader, but has a longer range. While the Noor in the latest case was launched from a ship, in the event of any hostilities in the Persian Gulf, Iran would most likely rely on its land-based missile assets.

Western naval vessels would have the defensive capabilities to cope with Iranian anti-ship missiles in a hypothetical engagement in open waters, but the Strait of Hormuz is a different operating environment. Missiles fired from shore-based batteries may be picked up late and counter-measures not deployed in time - particularly if the target is operating close to land. Hence, Iranian land-based anti-ship missiles would present a clear danger to both naval and merchant vessels operating close to shore and in the narrow sea lanes of the Strait.

Tehran has realised since the 1980s that its best means of national defence was to develop ballistic missiles. Its air force would be destroyed in fairly short order in any large-scale attack, making Iran reliant on a deterrence-based strategy. On the basis of the venerable Soviet Scud missile, Iran (which has not signed the Missile Technology Control Regime) has made significant strides in developing ballistic missiles over the last few decades. And as its ballistic missiles increase in potency and survivability, the threat they pose will likewise increase.

However, if Iran is to develop a viable nuclear deterrent, it needs to not only produce the actual weapon, but also to ensure that the associated missile is large enough to carry a nuclear device. Likewise, the device itself must also be small enough to be delivered. The complexity of these three inter-related technological advances explains why Tehran is unlikely to present a nuclear threat to its neighbours for years, if not decades, to come.

For samples of the Oxford Analytica Daily Brief, click here.

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Topics: Analysis • Iran • Military

soundoff (73 Responses)
  1. Benedict

    Iran,is doing what anybody would do if they knew that the threat issued isn't viable:bluster and show aggression.They can't close the route through which they depend on for the passage of their oil and that of the few friends that they have in China and Russia; Iran show their missile capibility as means of getting the higher ground in the event of a conflict.

    January 9, 2012 at 5:12 am | Reply
  2. A Concerned Man

    It's amazing that people show their feelings w/o any data to back it up. USA and Iran need each other more than what everyone thinks. We need to push for finding a way to eliminate the differences so they can come close together. Iranians are a very proud nation and they'll not back down to anyone no matter how strong the other side is and no matter what the consequences are, thier 1000s of years history has shown that! So why would we want to hit on the war drum?! Iran WILL NOT attack anyone or any country, I am sure they would love to be in peace and harmony with their neighbors and other countries. So let's find a way to make PEACE not WAR!!

    January 9, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Reply
  3. Bala

    USA cannot dere attack Iran! The day USA attack Iran shall be the end of western civilisation. IRAN is not IRAQ, SOMALIA, AFGANISTAN or even PAKISTAN!

    January 10, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Reply
  4. Rick

    Iran's missiles are nothing more than stretched SCUDS, 1960's era ballistic missiles that are lucky to hit a city much less a specific target.

    If you want a threat, look at Saudi Arabia and its 100 or so CSS-2 East Wind MRBM missiles it purchased from China. These are fully nuclear capable missile with a CEP of less than 1 mile.

    January 23, 2012 at 1:14 am | Reply
  5. susan

    Fareed and Oxford have their heads up their proverbial @'s. Do your homework, "experts". Iran, absent viable missile delivery systems, will walk a nuke into Lebanon by truck...then smuggle it up to the border with Israel and pull the trigger, ignoring the 400,000 innocent Lebanese, and hoping the wind blows all the crap further into Israel. You're so naive, it frightens me. Oh, by the way, a crappy Greek-registered freighter, carrying the same Iranian bomb, could sail up to Port Arthur and drop about 40% of the US gasoline refining capacity in the same manner. Again, you people frighten me. CNN experts.....indeed.

    February 3, 2012 at 8:11 pm | Reply
  6. me

    Based on this assessment, why are us, irael and the west so frantic about Iran? I guess when you have WMDs and someone does not bow to you, you just blast them off.

    February 5, 2012 at 8:48 am | Reply
  7. Buy Neopets

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    January 13, 2013 at 2:15 pm | Reply
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