Joshua PollackIran’s New Missile

It was easy to overlook amid the discussion of the Bushehr reactor starting up, but Iran’s military, always busy, announced a new ballistic missile test last week. According to Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi, the new Qiam-1 liquid-fueled ballistic missile marks an advance in countermeasures against ballistic missile defenses.


He explained that the missile is equipped with a smart navigation system, which decreases the possibility of it being targeted by other projectiles.

Vahidi added that the liquid-fuel missile’s launch time is low due to its smart targeting system.

“It enjoys enhanced agility due to the scrapping of its fins,” Vahidi stressed, adding that the missile can hit targets with high precision.

And indeed, the missile’s lack of tail fins is readily apparent in the pictures.

Vahidi didn’t explain why a lack of fins would be advantageous either for accuracy or against defenses, but it’s not hard to guess. Fins are mostly useful for stabilizing a missile as it re-enters the atmosphere, but that’s beside the point if the missile has a separating warhead. And a separating warhead — not the lack of fins per se — would represent a noteworthy technical milestone, potentially contributing to greater accuracy and certainly presenting defenses with a smaller target.

(That’s not to say that going finless doesn’t have its own potential advantages, as related by Gen. Seyed Mehdi Farahi of Iran’s Aerospace Industries Organization.)

But that’s not all. The implication of Vahidi’s statement, if we are to take it at face value, appears to be that the Qiam-1 has a separating, maneuvering warhead. That strikes me as too many advances at a stroke, but I’ll defer to the missile experts. Geoff Forden’s absence is keenly felt already.

Here’s a video with launch footage.

Update. Here’s a better video. Thanks, Jochen!


  1. Pirouz (History)

    Josh, the Iranians have possessed a steerable re-entry vehicle since the Shahab-3B.

    Disappointing, losing Dr. Forden.

    • joshua (History)


      As a non-missilologist, I’m wondering how we in open-source land can evaluate claims of that sort. Observing the absence of fins, or so it seems to me, is proof positive of a separating warhead, something we didn’t have before.

  2. donnie (History)

    Why still LIQUID fuel, they could’ve installed a “Maneuvering Warhead” on their new SOLID fueled missiles?

    Maybe no MW, but GIMBALs (or both)?… their first (liquid fueled) attempt at non-fin thrust vectoring ?


    • joshua (History)

      The video shows the tail end, briefly. You don’t get a clear view, but it does look like the same jet-vane arrangement we’ve seen before.

    • steeljawscribe (History)

      Why stil liquid fuel? You can control liquid fueled missiles via throttle.

      Thinking the smoke trail at 1:02 may be indicative of an inflight failure as attested to by the impact at what — 20, 25 miles downrange in the last frames?

      w/r, SJS

  3. simorgh (History)

    What is also noteworthy is that this i not merely a finless Scud but completely new smaller missile. Except of course the guys standing nex to it are 2,5m tall 😉

  4. Jochen Schischka (History)

    Check this out for a better Video of the Qiam-1 launch:

    Additionally, there are rather good pictures at:

    If my analysis on this subject is correct, then the ‘Qiam-1’ is nothing but a Shahab-2/Scud-C with the ‘triconic’ warhead (i always thought that it was self-explanatory that that type of warhead, used on the Ghadr-1 and Sejil, too, is separable – what else is a warhead-design with that type of geometry good for?). Other modifications incorporate the deletion of the fins (not really neccessary anymore with a separable warhead – stabilization during active boost can be achieved by the already existing jet-vanes) and a shortening of the guidance section from 850mm to ~420mm (the guidance system is the same old Scud Horizont/Vertikant-one – it’s internal components now just fit inside of the empty flare at the rear of the warhead – mark that the Iraqis did something similar with the shortened Al-Hussain H3, or the Syrians with their Scud-ER).

    BTW, the fact that a missile has fins not neccessarily exludes a separating warhead; The Shahab-3/Nodong-A has a separable warhead, too…

    • joshua (History)

      Thanks for finding that. Did you notice in the video around 1:06 that the rocket appears to have corkscrewed? Not sure if that’s a bug or a feature.

      Comment moderation will be delayed for awhile.

  5. Jochen Schischka (History)

    A little addition:

    I see absolutely NO indication that this warhead is in any way STEERABLE (like moveable fins, or sets of nozzles – i think the small bulges on the side of that RV are more or less the same small telemetry antennas as on the Kavoshgar-1 or the upper stage of the Safir IRILV). I even don’t see any sign of any post-boost-system, so that RV most likely doesn’t even make an aligned, spinned-up reentry, but a tumbling one – like early soviet RVs. I’d estimate that the Qiam-1 will have a CEP in the range of ~500-1000m at an approximate maximum range of ~500km, maximum deviation would perhaps be in excess of 1.5km.

    And to those who think that these persons are 2.5m tall – please consider the effects of perspective; None of the people stand ADJACENT TO, but IN FRONT of the missile.

    With this in mind, on closer examination you’ll notice a lot of similarities between the Qiam-1 and the Shahab-2/Scud-C launch from 2006 (similar dimensions, similar tank structure with a common bulkhead instead of an intertank-section, similar numbering on the jet vane actuator boxes, similar rocket flame, similar smoke trail, similar MEL based on a commercial semitrailer etc. etc. etc.).

  6. Allen Thomson (History)

    I wonder if the black nose tip is carbon-carbon. Would you need that for the reentry conditions encountered by a Scud-C-like missile warhead?

    • Jochen Schischka (History)

      Hmmm, C-C-ceramics typically have a somewhat more greyish/silvery matt finish (at least the compositions i know); And it certainly would be overkill to use that material at a range of ‘only’ 500km (but may be better suited to the Ghadr-1’s ~1500km or the Sejil’s ~1800-2000km, although still not really neccessary).
      Most likely it is indeed some sort of heat resilient material (i wouldn’t exclude something carbon-based like e.g. graphite).

  7. Jochen Schischka (History)


    I think this ‘corkscrewing’ is neither bug nor feature: it’s a ‘frozen lightning’.
    Due to differing wind velocities and directions at different heights, the contrail of the missile (which, at that height, mostly is water condensed due to the disturbance of the atmosphere – just like in case of jet airliners flying at similar heights) gets blown away in different directions. Since the winds at ~10km height (-> ‘jetstreams’) can be rather strong and possibly rapidly change direction with height depending on local weather conditions, this wind drift can happen surprisingly fast. And since a missile follows a ballistic trajectory with a rapid rate of ascent, this produces patterns not easily understandable without these circumstances in mind.

    Check e.g. this picture of an Aggregat-4’s contrail:

    Most likely, we see the same phenomenon on the Qiam-1.

  8. Jochen Schischka (History)


    After measuring this myself in detail, i must say that i find it difficult to reproduce your figure of 2.5m tall persons. If i’m neglecting perspective (as i wrote before, in my eyes these people don’t stand directly ALONGSIDE, but CLOSER TO THE CAMERA than the missile/MEL), then i’m measuring something in the range of 2.0 to 2.2m – that’s about 10% larger than would be expected, and, with considerable certainty, in the range of what would have to be subtracted to compensate for perspective.

    I think that the Scud’s 880mm diameter fit quite nicely.

    Besides, all other aspects of that missile’s body (besides the obviously modified warhead and guidance compartments and the lack of fins) show astonishing similarities with the Shahab-2/Scud-C. Also, the rocket engine’s exhaust (length, color, film-cooling, smoke trail, ignition details etc.) bears striking resemblance with that of an Isayev 9D21 (Scud-engine), although it seems to have slightly underperformed in case of the Qiam-1 (i’m estimating only ~12t liftoff-thrust instead of the nominal 13.31t – mark that this is still inside of the usual performance envelope of a Scud-B/C/D).

  9. George William Herbert (History)

    It would help to have a continuous video of the liftoff through out-of-range.

    The second video posted has the spiral – hard to tell what it was, or how far in it was, with the video editing.

    It also showed what appears to be an impact somewhere downrange. Whether that was in a remote test area or on the launch range is hard to tell. They were pointing a camera at the impact area so they have to have thought there was going to be something hitting there, so either it crashed near the pad and someone watched it come down (the spiral seems far enough away that that’s unlikely) or else the warhead reached its intended target area.

    Fins are useful in two areas – one, on ascent, stability as you go through transonic speeds and into supersonic, as the dynamic pressure builds up to and through max-Q and the aerodynamic disturbing force peaks, and two, on reentry if the warhead doesn’t separate. The first one can be replaced by good enough control loops with engine swiveling and actuators, or exhaust vectoring or some sort. Nearly all US launch vehicles other than Scout and Saturn did without fins, and the raw difficulty of the control loop programming is bounded by the recent VTVL rocket developments in the US.

    Separating warheads are just all good for the missileer, so it’s obvious that they’d try that on a Scud-sized missile eventually. Lower RCS, less target for interceptors, no worry about the warhead malfunctioning if the missile body breaks up, lower drag / higher terminal velocity…

    • Jochen Schischka (History)

      Considering the ‘spiral’ – according to my interpretation, that was simply a ‘frozen lightning’ phenomenon (well known from launches of other ballistic missiles), no strange behaviour of that missile. See my last comment addressed at Josh.

      Please keep in mind that the ‘impact’ we see in the video not neccessarily has to be associated with that missile (even though the coverage seems to indicate that, not neccessarily correctly) – it could be anything from an artillery-grenade or -rocket to an air-dropped bomb or even only a pile of explosives going off.

      (BTW: VTVL launchers in my eyes are a rather, eeehh, how shall i put that diplomatically…less than optimal ‘solution’; Any development money spent on those concepts certainly would be a better investment if used for something more promising/logical/in agreement with the rocket equation…)

      I can only underscore anything else you wrote.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      Jochen, it would perhaps be amusing to have you discuss VTVL with John Carmack, Dave Masten, and Paul Breed. I can arrange it if you like, there’s a mailing list…

    • Jochen Schischka (History)

      George, to be honest, i don’t see a lot of sense in discussing something that system-inherently (as an SSTO) will under no circumstances ever be able to compete against Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky’s ingeniuosly elegant idea of a multi-staged launcher.
      I must also out myself as not a big fan of ‘full reusability’ in space transportation (mostly for matters of safety)…

      (Besides, at the moment i’m rather occupied with debunking this ‘Liliput-Scud’-rumor…)

  10. David Wright (History)


    Interesting post. I couldn’t figure out how to post pictures in the comments here, so I posted my take on the launch on our blog at:

    • joshua (History)

      Thanks, David. I think the way to post images in the comments is to use raw HTML, but there’s no reason not to use your own site.

      Everyone previously accustomed to textile (per ACW v2) will have to recalibrate…

  11. geoff (History)

    I’m not sure why you say that fins are used for aerodynamically stabilizing a rocket during boost and are not used during reentry. Actually, I think that it is exactly the opposite. After all, how do you stabilize a SCUD at launch? You use the jet vanes. Its the same way during its entire powered flight. However, you need fins on a SCUD if the warhead does not separate to turn the rocket nose down before it hits the dense part of the atmosphere. Otherwise, the missile might break up or, worse, be “blown” off course by a large amount. The Al Hussain’s fins were not big enough to do this and it hit the dense part of the atmosphere on its side and (usually broke up). Of course, fins might add some stability just after burn out but for a SCUD-C, that is still going to be pretty high and my guess is that the extra drag from a change in attitude will be minimal.
    As to the nose tip, I keep on thinking about the Iraqis you used a graphite nose tip on their Al Fatah, probably because it made it look pretty.

    • David Wright (History)

      Fins are commonly used for stabilization during boost. An interesting example is the 2-stage Chinese DF-4 missile, which has fins on the first stage but not on the second stage (see the picture at Since the first stage is dropped during boost, the fins can’t have anything to do with reentry.

      Whether you can use a guidance system without fins to stabilize a missile early in flight depends on how good the guidance system is – how good it is at sensing changes in the orientation of the missile and how quickly it can respond. The extra stability added by the fins significantly reduces the speed at which the guidance system needs to be able to react.

      Clearly unguided missiles (even model rockets) need fins for stabilization during launch. Missiles with advanced guidance systems, like U.S. ICBMs, clearly don’t. Someplace between those two is a point at which the guidance system is good enough to get rid of the fins. The fact that the Chinese DF-4 still has fins suggests to me that Scud needs them for stabilization during boost, and this agrees with this excerpt from the Pentagon’s MTCL below.

      I agree with Schmucker and Schiller’s idea that Iran is testing a better guidance system, but still with jet-vanes. As I said in my post, they may be doing this guidance outside the missile.


      Militarily Critical Technologies List (MCTL) (September 1998), Part II: Weapons of Mass Destruction Technologies
      (, pg. II-1-7:

      “The aerodynamic and inertial properties of the missile and the nature of the atmospheric conditions through which it flies determine the speed with which guidance commands need to be sent to the control system. First generation TBMs, such as the SCUD and the Redstone, have fins to damp out in-flight perturbations. The rudimentary guidance systems used in these missiles do not support rapid calculations of position changes. When a missile’s thrust vector control system becomes responsive enough to overcome these perturbations without aerodynamic control surfaces, these fins are usually removed from the design because their added weight and aerodynamic drag diminish the missile’s range.

      “Most TBM designs have a resonance around 10 Hz (cycle time of 100 milliseconds. Calculations to correct disturbances must occur within this cycle time. Guidance and control engineers generally add a factor of safety of two to their cycle time or, in other words, half the cycle time. When thrust vectoring is the exclusive control standard of a missile, the system must respond or have a major cycle time of 50 milliseconds or less. When fins are used, the control cycle time for a missile may be much longer than a second.”

    • geoff (History)

      You have obviously thought a great deal deeper about this than I have–certainly you have found a very important reference–it appears that a SCUD’s guidance system still needs any perturbations to be damped out a bit by the fins after it gains a great deal of velocity. But you haven’t addressed the other half of my point: fins are needed for reentry. I still think their absence is the most direct evidence yet of a separating warhead. (Lines are all very nice but…)

    • Jochen Schischka (History)

      I mostly agree with David Wright’s comment – only that i’m not sure if the Scud’s guidance/steering system may be fast enough to allow the deletion of the fins.
      In my eyes, the gyros (1SB9 and 1SB10) and the analog computer (1SB13) will probably respond fast enough – the bottleneck may be the jet vane actuators.
      Haven’t found out yet about the minimum response time of an 1SB14 actuator, though (does anybody have that information at hand?).
      Anyway, the actuator boxes on the Qiam-1 look identical to those of a Scud-B/-C/-D to me, but that doesn’t automatically exclude different internals.

      Nonetheless i also agree with Geoff: In case of the Scud (and other single-staged missiles without warhead-separation), the fins are ALSO vital for reentry (of course, they don’t work without an atmosphere – that’s why they’re not used on upper stages that won’t see any air during operation, like in case of the DF-4).
      The need for non-active directional alignment (aka aerodynamic stability) also typically dictates the form/mass distribution of separated reentry-vehicles – thus they often have small fins or a mostly empty (or at least lightweight) conical section at the rear (like in case of the “triconic” RV – or even the Minuteman’s Mk.11).

      Also, don’t forget that there are missiles WITH a separating warhead AND fins out there, too (like the DF-3, or the DF-2/R-5M, or the DF-1/R-2, or the R-12, or the R-13, or the R-14, or the Nodong-A etc. etc. etc.)…

    • David Wright (History)


      You’re right that for short-range missiles the fins can be useful to orient the missile during reentry. I was thinking here of a missile of range 500 km or longer and assuming the aerodynamic forces are high enough at that range to break off the body even if oriented–so I was assuming a separating warhead. It’s possible that an oriented body at 500 km range might not be torn off, but it would above something like this range. It would be interesting to look at this in more detail.

  12. pkr (History)

    Scrapping fins appears to be a logical step if you want to lauch the missile out of a tube – be it a transport canister or something like a silo. There have been indications, including sat imagery, that Iran is heading towards that direction. And General Seyed Mehdi Farahi told Fars News Agency that going finless made it possible for the Qiam to be “launched from various types of launchers”. That could well refer to this very intention.

    Basing Scuds in silos seems to be a waste of time and money, but using them for R&D purposes makes perfect sense for the Iranians. Iran seems to have much more of these comparably cheap and basic missiles available for flight testing than of their more advanced (and more precious) missiles.

    • joshua (History)

      I think that’s correct — it makes canisters a lot more practical, although I’m not sure what the importance of canisters might be. Scuds are road-mobile as it is.

      Commercial imagery going back a few years shows silos in northwest Iran, but probably not for Scuds.

  13. Pirouz (History)

    Jochen, in your opinion is the following observation inaccurate?

    • Jochen Schischka (History)

      Yes, in my eyes this is incorrect.

      I can only ask myself how somebody can interpret an unarticulated spot in a blurry video stillframe as a “steering nozzle” (wishful thinking?). There are MUCH better images of the “triconic” RV available by now (e.g. from the september-parades of Ghadr-1 or Sejil) – and it is clear that there is no such steering nozzle (it’s most likely an explosive bolt for warhead separation – which tells us something about the anchorage of that warhead, as well as that the ‘end conus’ of the RV is hollow on the inside, which also corresponds well to aerodynamic requirements)!

  14. Scott (History)

    I have an question for everyone..Do you think there could be a possible connection between the Shahab-3/Ghadr-1 warhead/re-entry vehicle and the warhead design of the DF-15C? They look very similar to me and appeared at about the same time. Now I don’t think anyone is sure what speciifc kind of guidance system the DF-15C uses but its widely accepted to have a separating warhead (unlike the original DF-15) and is very similar in shape. Many on the net (including the semi-official Sinodefence) believe the missiles is designed for penetration strikes which does seem logical give the warheads shape. Thoughts?

  15. Hairs (History)

    Is it me, or are there significant differences in the cloud coverage during different segments of the ITN video? Sure we could be looking at some different camera angles showing different parts of the sky, but I get the distinct feeling that the video is not that of a single test, but rather a montage of two or more tests.

    If there had been a SERIES of tests (with a perhaps a few failing shortly after launch, hence a video clip of the successful launch only) then in my opinion that would support the idea that the Iranians have developed, and tested, a substantial improvement in their rocketry.