Jeffrey LewisSame Old Boring Shahab 3

CNN has a “developing story”

Iran did not conduct new missile tests today, despite Iranian media reports that it did, a senior U.S. military source tells CNN.

No kidding. [Oh, I see its the new test, not the new missile that is being disputed. Ed.]

Although Iran clearly wanted to show off, it should be pretty obvious that the missile tested is exactly the same old Shahab-3 with a 1,200 km range.

Yes, Iran has claimed that it is working on a longer, possibly two-stage version, with a 2,000 km range — but that ain’t what Iran launched.

Our intern — a clever kid from MIT named Nick Calluzzo — points out that the external dimensions of the tested Shahab-3 are identical to previously tested missiles. Which means the missiles are probably identical.

Based on analysis of the available launch footage, it is apparent that the missile launched yesterday is, in fact, an older, shorter range version Shahab-3A. Right off the bat, the footage shows a missile that looks strikingly similar to the baseline Shahab-3A. It has no outwardly identifying characteristics – a second stage, for example – to immediately differentiate it from the 3A. This leaves open the possibility that the “extended range Shahab-3” is just a longer version of the baseline 3A – same diameter, longer length first stage to accommodate more fuel. The difference in length would be apparent in a comparison of images of the launch today to images of the baseline Shahab-3A. However, just such a comparison reveals no difference.

The Shahab-3, a Nodong-1 derivative, is known to have a length of about 16 meters and a diameter of roughly 1.3 meters. Fixing the diameter of the missile launched today to that 1.3 meter diameter reveals a missile with an identical length. Both Shahab-3 missiles have the same length-width ratio of about 12.3:1. Unless the Iranians decided to build a proportionally larger Shahab-3 – which wouldn’t really make it a Shahab-3 at all – or managed to increase the ISP of the Shahab-3 from 230 to about 285, the missile launched today is just the same 1,200 km range Nodong-1 knockoff the Iranians have had functional since as early as 1998.

All of this is to say that some elements in the Iranian government are hoping for a certain response among pundits with less, uh, ballast. That may explain certain photoshopped images.

So, let’s calm down and keep the challenge from Iran in perspective.

I’ll post the CNN story when it becomes available. In the meantime, check out Geoff Forden’s comments on the failed February 2008 Shahab test.

Update: It seems the senior official is just disputing that another Shahab-3 had been launched on Thursday. Basically, it appears that the missile that didn’t fire on Wednesday — photoshopped out of certain images — was the only one launched on Thursday.


  1. Geoff Forden (History)

    Iran has consistently exaggerated its missile development program with one of the most notable examples being the Kavoshgar-1 launch on February 4th being the prototypical example. However, there were a number of significant aspects to the 8 July 2008 launches (I’m still waiting for the pictures of the 10 July 2008 launches). First, Iran launched two large, liquid-fueled, guided missiles within seconds of each other. At least one of these is consistent with the Shahab-3; the footage I’ve seen has too low resolution for me distinguish between a Shahab-3 and a SCUD. This shows a significant operational capability, especially since there are at least indications that the launchers were planned with very short notice—here I am thinking of the lack of preparation the film crews seem to have in setting up and their general lack of knowledge about which missiles would be launched first etc.

    And while everyone is justifiably concerned with the “strategic” missiles, the solid-propellant tactical missiles are still very interesting. First, it appears that all the tactical missiles launched were Zelzal-2 guided missiles as opposed to an earlier barrage of missile launches where there was a mix of Zelzal-1 and -2 missiles. This is apparent because none of the rail-launched missiles was spin stabilized. One implication MIGHT be that Iran’s tactical missile production capabilities have improved enough for them to stop production of the unguided Zelzal-1 and concentrate only on the presumably more accurate Zelzal-2.

    Of course, these tactical missile launches have gotten a lot of attention because Iran apparently tried to cover up the failure of one rail-launched rocket to launch (see the Lede in today’s New York Times). Judging from only this one day’s launch, this would seem to imply a fairly large failure rate to the Zelzal-2, perhaps as much as 25%. It would be nice to include the previous barrage launches to get a better idea.

  2. Omid (History)

    I have a photo that shows the missile launched differs from the old shahab-3 :

    The middle part of the missile is somehow thicker,maybe to increase the capacity for fuel.Also,the warhead seems to be different.
    I want you to save the picture and zoom on it and compare it to this photo(old shahab-3):

  3. Stephen Young (History)

    The UCS press release on the subject, which agrees with your analysis on the Shahab-3:



    WASHINGTON (July 10, 2008) — Iran and the United States this week faced off in what the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is calling a “battle of hype.”

    First, Iran made unconfirmed boasts about missiles it tested, UCS said. In response, the Bush administration cited Iran’s missile test as a rationale for building a missile defense installation in Eastern Europe — despite the fact that the system would not be effective.

    “Iran frequently exaggerates the capability of its missiles, and it appears it is continuing that tradition with this week’s tests,” said David Wright, a physicist and co-director of UCS’s Global Security Program. “Meanwhile, the Bush administration is using Iran’s missile tests to promote the U.S. anti-missile system in Eastern Europe that has never been shown to work in a real-world situation.”

    Iran claims that one of the ballistic missiles it tested on Wednesday had a range of 2,000 kilometers (km) carrying a payload of 1 ton, which would be a significant range increase over previous tests. More information is needed to check this claim, but, according to Wright, it is very unlikely that it is true. In February, Iran claimed to have launched a two-stage missile that later analysis determined was a one-stage Shahab missile.

    The one-stage Shahab 3 missile is believed to have a range of 1,000 to 1,300 km with a 1-ton payload, and is believed to be a close relative of the North Korean Nodong missile, Wright explained. Extending the range to 2,000 km would require significant upgrades, such as adding a second stage — which appears to be ruled out by launch photographs — or by dramatic increases in the thrust or reductions in the missile’s structural mass. “Given what we’ve seen of the Iranian program in past tests,” he said, “both seem unlikely.”

    The Bush administration used the missile tests to advance its plans to expand the U.S. anti-missile system. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, for example, told reporters: “The tests are more evidence that the world needs the U.S. missile defense system.”

    Independent technical analyses by UCS and others, however, show that the system the United States is developing to intercept long-range missiles can be defeated by decoys and other countermeasures that could be built by any country capable of building a long-range missile. Moreover, the U.S. system is still in early stages of development and testing, and has yet to be tested against the kinds of warheads and decoys that would be expected in a real attack. The administration has been able to begin deploying the anti-missile system only by exempting it from the “fly before you buy” law that applies to all other major military systems.

    “Rushing agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic to add a missile defense site in Europe is not a response to a threat, but an attempt to tie the hands of the next administration,” Wright said. “Congress, the press and the public shouldn’t be fooled by the hype. A more effective way to address a potential future threat would be to begin direct talks with Iran, which is what we did with the North Koreans.”

    For a brief UCS backgrounder on missile defense, go to

  4. J House (History)

    This admin is often accused of ‘sabre rattling’ by readers of this blog, so, why not the Iranians?

    They certainly have an interesting way of demonstrating their ‘peaceful intentions’ and remind us why their ballistic missile and nuclear programs are a dangerous combination in a country whose leaders threaten Israel with mass extinction.

    However, these scud variants will be easy pickings for Israel’s PAC-2 and Arrow BMD.

  5. Geoff Forden (History)

    Ooops! I just saw a high resolution, enlarged image of the tactical missiles being fired and at least one of them shows a faint puff of exhaust that might indicate spin stabilization.

  6. Omid (History)

    Excuse me,I’ve forgotten to put the photo in my first comment.Here’s the photo:

  7. Yale Simkin (History)

    In the Feb 2008 quote by Geoff, he asked: As I watch the video, it appears to me that the Shahab-3 has just started its pitch-over program, though why a sounding rocket needs to pitch over is beyond me

    Vertically launched sounding rockets like Shahib or Aries must pitchover to send them arcing downrange for safety and recovery.

    Typical rail-launched sounding rockets are pre-tilted and are fired at an angle.

    Yale Simkin

  8. Anonymous

    Look up Ghauri I and Ghauri II, village genius.

  9. Ranger Man (History)

    Funny stuff if you ask me. I’ve doctored the picture myself just for entertainment. Check it out:

  10. Yale Simkin (History)

    “Anonymous” wrote:
    Look up Ghauri I and Ghauri II, village genius.

    I can’t tell whether he is addressing Stephen, Geoff or Jeffery, but whoever it is, using insulting language like “village genius“ is unacceptable. A major strength of ACW is its civility. Vigorous debate does not imply ignorant flaming.

    I am surprised that Jeffery allowed that post unedited.

  11. Kiumars

    Part1- As far as I know Iran never claimed that those missiles were totally new missiles! Iran never issued photos of the launch either; Iran only issued a video!
    As for the missiles test; let’s say you put a more powerful engine in your car or change the fuel system or add navigation system to your car (to hit the target more accurately!); do you change the body of your car too? Boeing 747 that is manufactured today is body-wise identical to those manufactured 30-40 years ago but the new versions are far more sophisticated and advanced; and many flight tests were carried out when each enhancement were made!

  12. Kiumars

    Part2- BTW; the shortest distance between Tel Aviv and Iran (western borders) is less than 700 miles (well in reach of the 746 miles that you claim the old missile could reach!). Why do you guys always measure the distance between Tehran and Tel Aviv instead of the shortest distance between Iran and Tel Aviv? The mountainous western border of Iran is also over 2000m higher than central Iran which can result in even further reach and is a far better a place to hide and protect the launch vehicles. You guys are all doctors and directors; you should know these simple fats yourselves!