The Application of Iranian SRBMs on Russia’s Advancements in UkraineMehran Atashjameh
More than a year has passed since the Russian army invaded Ukraine, and the predictions of the Russian elites about quick victory and conquest of Kyiv did not come true. Although the Russian forces were able to occupy parts of Eastern Ukraine, they were caught in a long-term war with heavy losses in equipment and manpower. This mentioned condition, due to Western sanctions against Russia, has put more pressure on Russia’s war machine, even though Russia has started importing equipment from its allies, such as Iran. In November 2022, a bunch of news has been published about the negotiations between Moscow and Tehran for the delivery of Fateh-110 and Zulfiqar Short-Range Ballistic Missiles (SRBM) to Russia. This article seeks to answer the question of what would be the likely benefits of delivering the Iranian Short Range Ballistic Missiles (SRBM) on Russia’s advancement. The author hypothesized that in the case of delivering the SRBMs by Iran, they can fill Russia’s SRBM vacuum which is caused by the high usage rate of weapons during the invasion of Ukraine. The data used in this article comes from various research papers, official announcements, institute publications, and think-thank articles that have been deemed sufficiently reliable by the author.
Iran’s ballistic missiles – operational history and capabilities
The history of pursuing the ballistic program in the Islamic Republic started with retaliation against Iraq, which began targeting Iran’s cities with scud missiles during the Iran-Iraq war The development of the ballistic missiles program in Iran, just as other developing nations ballistic clients, began with importing this technology at first and taking up efforts to develop it by domestic industries in the second stage.
The history of conducting missile strikes by Iran’s forces comes back to the eight years of war with Iraq, when Iranian forces countered primarily with Scud-b missiles on the cities of Baghdad and Kirkuk as a response to Iraq’s targeting of Iran’s urban areas, known as the war of cities. It was the first usage of ballistic missiles and it became the beginning point of Iran’s ballistic program which then was expanded by importing technologies from allies like North Korea.
The year 1998 is a key point in Iran’s ballistic program process after the war with Iraq, when Iran successfully tested a Shahab-3 Medium Range Ballistic Missiles (MRBM) with a range of 1,200 kilometers, manufactured based on North Korean Nodong-1. The Shahab-3 became the backbone of Iran’s ballistic deterrence till the 2000s. Nowadays, Iran’s ability of ballistic missile development is upgraded, which makes it able to diversify its arsenal into different categories in range, warheads, launching types, and fuel types.
After 16 year-break, between 2017 and early 2020 there came a new round of Iranian ballistic missiles strikes. It conducted dozens of short-range ballistic missiles strikes during operations against the Islamic State (IS) and Iranian Kurdish dissidents in the North of Iraq. Apart from that, Iran targeted also the Ayn al-Assad base that hosted American forces on 8 January of 2020 as a response to the assassination of Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds forces commander Qasem Soleimani. The attack took place in a high-tension environment between Iran and the U.S. Despite of the uncertainty about the intention or lack thereof to cause casualties in this attack, satellite photos indicate the proper accuracy of the missiles that reached the target, according to the missiles’ hit points.
Iranian SRBMs capabilities and advantages
It is presumed that Russia planned to purchase two types of Iranian Short Range Ballistic Missiles (SRBM). According to open-access intelligence report, Moscow is interested to import Fateh -110 and Zolfaghar SRBMs variants.
The Fateh-110 is a solid-fueled surface-to-surface SRBM and it can carry a payload of up to 650 kg. Due to the latest upgrades this missile with its Circular Error Probable (CEP) below 10 meters can provide acceptable accuracy. In addition, its solid fuel propels system provides a short preparation time before launch, and in combination with road-mobile transporter provides high mobility capability that provides high survivability on the battlefield from rival’s artillery counterattacks.
The Zolfaghar SRBM is a variant of the Fateh-110 SRBM family. Zolfaghar is the result of the development of the Fateh missiles class in accuracy and the range spectrum. hence, it holds the previous characteristics such as solid fuel system, high mobility, and the ability to hit the targets at up to more than double the range of Fateh SRBMs class at 700 km.
From an economic point of view, Iranian missiles are significantly cheaper in comparison with Russian ones. Accordingly, the estimated price per each Fateh SRBM-family missiles unit is 110,00 USD, and 150,000 USD per Zolfaghar missiles. Whereas the estimated prices for the Russian missiles with similar operational duties like Tochka missiles are defined as up to 300.000 USD and 3 million USD per each Iskander SRBM.
The Iranian missiles purchasers are not limited to only Iran’s domestic forces. As a result of regional policies to influence the Middle East and support allies and proxy forces, Iran tried to export this technology to Hezbollah forces in Lebanon, Houthis in Yemen, and Syrian governmental forces. In recent years the Houthi rebels, which are known as Iranian regime proxy in Yemen, conducted drone and ballistic missile strikes against Saudi Arabia targets, like the Aramco oil refinery hit by Borkan-2, identified as a variant of Iranian Qiam-1 missile. Hence, based on the successful targeting of the opponents by Iranian missiles, evidence shows that Iran’s missile capability has been developed by investing in domestic defense industries, importing technologies, and support from allies, all of which resulted in improvements in ranges and accuracy. As a result, during the past decades they achieved acceptable prosperity despite the limitations that this program faced, like for example sanctions.
Russo-Iranian cooperation and Iranian SRBMs as cost-effective option
After the Islamic revolution led by ayatollah Khomeini, the Islamic Republic’s regime has been striving to export its ideology. In its narrative, it introduced the West as an imperial force whilst trying to pursue its interest by finding and mobilizing proxy forces in the region and establishing a front against the West and its allies. The US embassy crisis in Tehran, the US military operation toward rescuing the hostages, and political pressure deepened the crisis and became the cause of the gap in expansion between both sides. In the last years the US sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program, which the West identified as efforts toward manufacturing nuclear weapons, alongside difficulties in the economic sector, have caused Iran’s current condition and further development of hostilities between that state and the US. Therefore, Iran’s regime’s efforts were directed to the East and Russia became a strategic ally of Tehran, also due to the common involvement in Syria.
Russo-Iranian relations bring several benefits for both sides. Access to the Persian Gulf through Iran can be identified as an important one economically to Russia. On the other hand, Russia’s assistance as a superpower, one of the main opponents of the West and a permanent member of the Security Council, serves as a partnership beneficial for reduction of the US pressure, source of weapons import, building nuclear power stations, and support in other areas of technology. In general, the cooperation between Iran and Russia came from bilateral needs that reflected the condition of isolation from the West of both sides in political and economic dimensions.
Russia’s need for military equipment and weapons in the Ukraine war, and income from arms exports for Iran seem to be the proof of cooperation between these states on the ongoing warfare, especially when taken into account previous military activity in Syria, the Western pressure on both parties, erroneous Russian predictions regarding the quick victory in Ukraine, and, as a result, an erosional war in Ukraine for Russia. As result, Iran, as an ally of Russia supported it by exporting drones and other types of equipment in order to prove itself as a reliable.
The war in Ukraine has been unprecedented in terms of the number of land-based missiles used by Russia. Based on the intelligence reports until April 2022 Russian forces launched more than 1,400 missiles in total, while statements given by Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky mentioned 2,154 launches in May 2022, which is equal to 60 percent of Russia’s forces arsenal. Meanwhile, based on the shreds of evidence available, Russian forces used the Tochka missiles, withdrawn from the production line several years ago, and the S300. The above facts indicate the limitation of Russia’s forces in using the missiles. It seems that the Ukraine war highlighted the land-based missile’s importance for Russians.
Ukraine’s ballistic defense capability
After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the United States and other NATO members proceeded to aid Ukraine’s forces and in the initial months of the war Ukraine began to receive military support. Among the weapons delivered were air defense systems like IRSI-T and Gepards by Germany, NASMAS, Avenger, Stinger and Hawk by the US, as well as Starstreak by the United Kingdom. These technologies, despite their achievements in targeting drones and cruise missiles, are not effective on ballistic missiles.
Hence, the Soviet-made S-300 air defenses systems remain as the most effective systems of defense in Ukraine’s defense basket against ballistic missiles launched by Russia. However, despite Ukrainian’s efforts toward saving S-300s, reports indicate that Russian forces successfully knocked out several S-300 units.
According to the Department of Defense (DOD) of the United States announcement on December 2022 about supporting Ukraine with Patriot Systems, the United States delivered the MIM-104 Patriot system toward improving Ukraine’s anti-ballistic capability. In this regard, Lieutenant General Mykola Oleshchuk, Ukraine’s Air Force commander announce that Ukrainian forces had received the second Patriot air defense division on April 2023. Accordingly, the head of Ukraine’s Air Force on 6th may 2023 announced that Ukrainian forces successfully had shoot down Russia’s Hypersonic Missile with Patriot system. Hence, Ukraine’s Anti-Ballistic capability experienced improvement in comparison with the first year of war.
The Fateh-110 and Zolfaghar short-range ballistic missiles are the variants that during recent years were used by Iran’s forces in at least three ballistic operations. These missiles in comparison with their similar Russian-made models, despite the lower costs, provide acceptable performance which they achieved through upgrades over the years. Taking into consideration current Russia’s economic condition and vacuum in stockpiles and in production, Iran-made arms are worthy option. In addition, the beneficiary of both variants of missiles of road-mobile carriers and solid-fuel propulsion provide high mobility and less preparation time requirement before launch which saves these systems and heightens survivability from Ukrainian attacks and proves them as an effective system. On the other hand, Delivering Patriot air defense systems can heighten Ukraine’s Anti-ballistic capability but in case of conducting a strike with a high quantity of missiles Russia can apply pressure on Ukraine’s anti-ballistic capacity according to their limitation. Hence, according to the Iranian SRBM’s capabilities and prices, they can act as a cost-effective weapon which in case of delivering to Russia, can partially fill the SRBM’s gap in Russia’s arsenal stockpile.
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