Iran’s Ambitious Missile Programs

by Ali Chaudhry

Iran is rapidly attaining self-sufficiency in missile production and deployment. It is currently pursuing an ambitious missile program that, coupled with its nuclear aspirations, is perceived as a growing threat. Still, the number of names attributed to Iranian missile programs is evidently far larger than the number of actual missile programs. With extensive foreign assistance, Iran has been able to greatly bolster its regional strength, and is seeking the capability to domestically produce medium-range ballistic missiles. It is also developing an indigenous missile production capability for both solid and liquid fueled missiles.

Mushak-120 / Iran-130

According to reports, Iran in 1990 bought CSS-8 surface-to-surface missiles from China. These converted SA-2s have ranges of 130 to 150 kilometers. Variants of these missiles, called the Mushaks, are now being produced indigenously in Iran.  The Mushak-120, also called the Iran-130 or the Nazeat-10, is a solid-propellant missile with a maximum range of 130 kilometers and a payload of 500 kilograms. The production of these missiles was made possible largely due to Chinese technical assistance.

Mushak-160 / Fateh-110

The Mushak-160, also known as the Fateh-110, is a solid-propellant, surface-to- surface missile, with a reported range of about 170 kilometers. The program to develop this missile, which has a reported diameter of about 0.45 meters, apparently began around 1997. Iran successfully tested the Mushak-160 on May 31, 2001. According to official reports, the guided missile was developed at the government-owned Aerospace Industries. Iranian officials described the Mushak-160 in the following way:  “a super-modern surface-to-surface missile, functions with combined solid-fuel, is able to cause great damage and finds targets with accuracy. The missile is classified among Iran's most efficient missiles."[1] The missile’s range is believed to be 170 kilometers. On Sept. 6, 2002, Iran successfully test-fired the Fateh-110A, a ballistic missile. Again, no details were given on where in Iran the test was conducted or on the missile's range. Some reports claim that the Fateh-110A missile may be based on the Chinese DF-11A, which has a range of approximately 300 to 400 kilometers and is capable of carrying nuclear warheads.[2] The Mushak-160 is also reportedly being produced indigenously.

Mushak-200/ Zelzal-2

The 200-kilometer-range Mushak-200 is currently in development, and is also called the Zelzal-2. It is apparently a locally-produced version of the Luna-M (NATO name, FROG-7) rocket with a launcher based on the MB LA-911 truck chassis. The 8.3 meter-long rocket has a range that is variously estimated to be 100 to 400 kilometers, though 200 kilometers is the most widely quoted estimate. The Zelzal-2 is armed with a 600 kilogram high-explosive warhead, and some suggest that it may be able to carry chemical and biological payloads.[3] In October 2002, it was reported that Zelzal-2s had been delivered to Iranian Revolutionary Guard units in the Beka'a Valley in Lebanon. A new missile, called the Zelzal, has also reportedly been derived from Zelzal-2 over a period of four and half years.[4] In September 1999, officials stated that the Zelzal was “now in mass production” and was publicly exhibited by the Revolutionary Guard. Estimates indicate that the Zelzal can carry a warhead of 500 kilograms as far as 900 kilometers. However, the missile exhibited by the Revolutionary Guard in Tehran was a rocket on a truck-mounted launch rail, and seemed more likely to have a range of 150 to 200 kilometers.

Shahab-1 / Scud-B

The Soviet-designed Scud-B guided missile currently forms the core of Iran’s ballistic missile forces. The Scud-B is a relatively old Soviet design (the R-17E or R-300E) that first became operational in 1967, and has a range of 290-300 kilometers with its normal conventional payload. The export version of the missile is about 11 meters long, 85-90 centimeters in diameter, and weighs 6,300 kilograms. This version of the Scud-B comes with a conventional high-explosive warhead weighing about 1,000 kilograms, of which 800 kilograms are the high-explosive payload and 200 kilograms are the warhead structure and fusing system. It has a single-stage, storable, liquid-rocket engine and is usually deployed on the MAZ-543 eight wheel transporter-erector-launcher (TEL). It has a strap-down inertial guidance which uses three gyros to correct its ballistic trajectory, and has internal graphite jet-vane steering. The warhead hits at a velocity above Mach 1.5.[5] Iran became interested in acquiring Scuds in 1980 when it was invaded by Iraq.

Iran is believed to have acquired four Scud launchers and 54 missiles from Libya and Syria in 1985-86. The 300-kilometer range of this missile permitted strikes around Baghdad, which is 130 kilometers from the Iranian border. Tehran began using the Scuds, domestically designated Shahab-1s, against Iraq in March 1985. It fired as many as 14 Scuds in 1985, 8 in 1986, 18 in 1987, and 77 in 1988. The latter was a particularly heated battle and took place during a 52-day period that came to be known as the "war of the cites." In this period, 61 were fired at Baghdad, nine at Mosul, five at Kirkuk, one at Tikrit, and one at Kuwait. Iran fired as many as five missiles on a single day, and once fired three missiles within 30 minutes. This still, however, worked out to an average of only about one missile a day, and Iran was down to only 10 or 20 Scuds when the “war of the cities” ended.

Iran later bought more Scud-Bs in a $5 million deal with North Korea. Among the items reportedly purchased were 90-100 Scud-B missiles. These were delivered from June 1987 to the beginning of 1988. According to another report, Iran received more than 200 Scuds directly from the Soviet Union in 1987. The 1995 Jane's Intelligence Review - Special Report No. 6, which focused on Iran's weapons, asserted that Iran's present missile inventory included 15 transporter-erector-launchers and 250-300 Scud-Bs, all of which were bought from North Korea. The report also concluded that North Korea helped build a "Scud Mod B" (320 kilometers/1000 kilograms) assembly plant in Iran in 1988, but that the plant apparently never manufactured any missiles.[6] American experts believe that Iran can now manufacture Scud-Bs locally, except for the most sophisticated components of its guidance system and rocket motors, which are imported from various suppliers.

Shahab-2 / Scud-C

Iran also has new long-range North Korean Scud-Cs. These missiles are more advanced than the Scud-Bs, although many aspects of their performance are unclear. North Korea seems to have completed development of the 500-kilometer-range missile in 1987 after obtaining technical support from the People's Republic of China. While it is often called a “Scud C,” it seems to differ substantially in detail from the original Soviet Scud B and may be based more on the Chinese-made DF-61.[7] Experts estimate that the North Korean missiles have a range of around 500 kilometers, a warhead with a high-explosive payload of 700 kilograms, and relatively good accuracy and reliability. While this payload is limited for the effective delivery of chemical agents, Iran could possibly modify the warhead to increase the payload at the expense of range and use more lethal agents such as persistent nerve gas. Similarly, it could potentially arm its Scud-C forces with biological agents. In any case, such missiles are likely to have enough range to allow Iran to strike all targets on the southern coast of the Gulf and all of the populated areas in Iraq. Iran could also reach targets in part of eastern Syria, the eastern third of Turkey, and cover targets in the border area of the former Soviet Union, western Afghanistan, and western Pakistan. North Korea seems to have also sold Iran technology that would save Iran years of development and testing in obtaining highly lethal biological and chemical warheads.

By 2003, Iran may have stocked as many as 100 Scud-Cs, while North Korea further aided Iran in converting a missile maintenance facility into an assembly plant for the Mod -Cs. Iranian officials denied the existence of these missiles in its arsenal long after acquiring them. It probably bought them in 1990 when Mohsen Rezaei, the former commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), met a North Korean delegation in Tehran. North Korea exported the missile through its Lyongaksan Import Corporation, while Iran used B-747s and ships to import the missile assemblies. It was believed that by 1998, Iran had at least 60 Scud-Cs and five to 10 Scud-C launchers, including four TELs it bought from North Korea in 1995.[8] It is believed that Iran now possesses the capability to assemble Scud-C missiles using foreign-made components. It may soon be able to make entire missile systems and warhead packages locally.

On April 19, 2001, Iran attacked a number of Mujahedin-e-Khalq [MEK] facilities with missiles in Iraq, including Camp Ashraf, north of Baghdad; Camp Anzali in Jalawla; Camp Faezeh in Kut; Camp Habib in Basra; Camp Homayoun in Al-Amarah; and Camp Bonyad Alavi in Mansourieh. The missile volley was to warn the heavily-armed group to cease its attacks in Iran. It was initially reported that Iran fired 56 surface-to-surface missiles during the attack at Iraqi cities of Basra, Kut, Khalis and Jelawla. Subsequent reports claimed that as many as 77 surface-to-surface Scud missiles were fired by Iran. However, it is doubtful that Iran actually used any Scuds in the attack, since it could not afford to waste a lot of its Scuds on the campaign. More likely, domestically-manufactured missiles, and possibly rockets, were used.

Shahab-3 / Zelzal-3

The Iranian Shahab-3 missile, alternatively designated Zelzal-3, is said to be a derivative of the North Korean NoDong-1 (ND-1). The ND-1 is a single-stage, liquid-fueled missile with a range of 1,000-1,300 kilometers, although longer ranges may be possible with a reduced warhead and a maximum burn. The missile is about 15.2 meters long, four meters longer than the Scud B, and 1.2 meters in diameter. It has an estimated terminal velocity of Mach 3.5, versus 2.5 for the Scud B. The missile is transported on a modified copy of the MAZ-543P TEL that has been lengthened with a fifth axle and which is roughly 40 meters long. The added support stand for the vertical launch modes brings the overall length to 60 meters, and some experts question whether a unit this big is practical.[9]

The ND-1 missile was developed by North Korea with Iranian financial assistance. In return, Iran was provided with technical assistance and missile shipments. The first shipments were to be received in 1993, but were halted due to U.S. pressure. By 1996, however, Israeli reports claimed that Iran had received at least 10 missiles from North Korea. In May 2002, Turkish intelligence reported that Iran had decided to start production of the Shahab-3 missile. Iran reportedly plans to produce at least 150 of these liquid-fueled missiles, which are capable of delivering a 1,000 kilogram warhead at least 1,300 kilometers. This range would allow Iran to reach any target in the Gulf, Turkey, and Israel. Israeli officials estimate Iran has been able to amass an arsenal of at least 20 Shahab-3s.[10]

Initial ground tests of the Shahab-3 were carried out in 1997, and its first test took place on July 22, 1998. Iran conducted another test in September 1998. The rocket exploded or was detonated about 100 seconds into the flight, either because of a mishap or because the Iranians were satisfied with its performance and detonated it by remote control. Due to the missile's mid-air explosion, which was picked up by U.S. satellites, it was initially believed that the test was at least a partial failure. However, after careful examination of the data, some Western experts reportedly concluded that the test was in fact successful. Iran successfully tested a Shahab-3 on July 15, 2000. Following the test, the Iranian Defense Ministry told Iranian State television that the Islamic Republic had no intention of using its missiles to attack other countries.[11] Iran conducted a third test launch on Sept. 21, 2000, but the missile apparently exploded shortly after liftoff. It had another successful test of the Shahab-3 on May 23, 2002.

More recently, on July 4, 2002, the Israeli daily newspaper, Haaretz, reported on what was described as the most successful of seven or eight launches of the Shahab-3 over the previous five years. Another unsuccessful test took place the same month and went unreported by Iranian officials.  On July 7, 2003, Iran confirmed that it had conducted a final test on the Shahab-3. On July 20, 2003, the IRGC formally took delivery of the Shahab-3 long-range missile from the Defense Ministry, and in September 2003, Iran publicly displayed the Shahab-3 on its launcher during a parade.


Israeli and U.S. intelligence sources have reported that Iran is actively trying to develop the Shahab-4 missile, which is thought to have a range of 2,000 kilometers and a warhead of around 1,000 kilograms. According to some analysts, the Iranian Shahab-4 missile is believed to be a derivative of the 1,500-kilometer range North Korean NoDong-2 (ND-2). However, other reports claim that the missile is based on the Soviet SS-4 missile and is entirely a product of Russian missile technology.[12] The Iranian Defense Minister admitted in February 1999 that Iran was in the process of constructing the Shahab-4 missile, but said it was for launching a satellite into space. However, its range would bring far-away targets such as Germany and western China into Iran’s reach.

The precise configuration of the Shahab-4, which has not been flight tested yet, remains somewhat conjectural. The missile could use two booster stages equipped with the No Dong engines, or a single No Dong engine on top of a more powerful Russian-designed motor. Israeli sources have claimed that Russia has been providing Iran technology from the SS-4 program. Among the Russian firms said to be helping Iran are Rosvoorouzhenie, the Russian arms-export agency; the Bauman Institute of Underwater Devices and Robotics, Moscow State Technical University; NPO Trud, a rocket-motor manufacturer; and Polyus, Russia's leading laser developer. Russian assistance reportedly includes wind-tunnel testing of missile nose cones, designing of guidance and propulsion systems, among other projects. Israeli sources maintain that the Russian Space Agency is involved directly in some of the technology transfers. A Chinese company, Great Wall Industries, is reportedly supplying missile-testing telemetry technology to Iran. According to U.S. officials, Russian enterprises have provided high-grade steel, wind tunnel test facilities for flight performance, and special alloys for the missile casing and for foil shielding around guidance systems. The firms involved, according to the officials, included the Baltic State Technical University in St. Petersburg, NPO Energy Mash and the Bauman State University. The U.S. government has concluded that the Russian government is at best turning a blind eye to these transactions.[13] In 2003, Iranian officials declared suspension of the Shahab-4 program, under great international pressure and scrutiny. This claim, like other Iranian ones, cannot be authenticated.

Shahab-5 / Kosar

There are reports that Iran is very interested in acquiring two developmental North Korean intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBM) called the Taepo Dong 1(TD-1) and Taepo Dong 2 (TD-2). Both missiles are two-stage, liquid-fueled missiles, with the TD-1 having a range of 2,000 kilometers and TD-2 having a range of more than 3,500 kilometers. There are reports claiming that Iran’s Shahab-5 program is based on these missiles.  December 1996 news reports from Reuters claim that Iran is developing a 3,500-mile (5,500-kilometers) missile that would be capable of reaching Europe. The technology for this system was cited as coming from Russia and North Korea. Initial reports claimed that the missile would become operational by the year 2000, though new reports assert that Iran intends to complete the development of this system within the next five to 10 years. It is possible that this missile is a TD-2 derivative. Not much is known about this program, and its status is in doubt. There are reports of an Iranian surface-to-surface missile in development, called Kosar. This could be a new name for the Shahab-5. On June 2, 2004, the Iranian Defense Ministry announced that it was producing Iran’s first stealth cruise missile, also called Kosar, which would be capable of hitting ships and aircraft. No other details were given, and this adds to the ambiguity of the Shahab-5 program.

Further Development
Some sources claim that the Russians are helping a solid-fuel design team at the Shahid Bagheri Industrial Group in Tehran develop a 4,500 kilometer missile, capable of reaching London and Paris, and a 10,000 kilometer range missile that could strike cities in the eastern United States. These reports of a new missile program called the Shahab-6 are poorly documented and highly speculative. In May 2004, the Middle East Newsline reported Western intelligence claims that Tehran had been negotiating with Pyongyang for the purchase of the TD-2. This would be used as an intercontinental ballistic missile as well as a space launcher.

Iran has also acquired cruise missile technology from China. China is helping Iran build copies of the Chinese CS-801/CS-802 and the Chinese FL-2 or F-7 anti-ship cruise missiles. Iran can also modify HY-2 Silkworm missiles and SA-2 surface-to-surface missiles to deliver weapons of mass destruction.

In 1999, the CIA reported that Iran is capable of testing an intercontinental ballistic missile in the next 15 years, possibly a TD-type missile.

Missile Facilities

Iran seems to want sufficient missiles and launchers to make its missile force highly dispersible. It has developed effective programs to protect its missile arsenal from a limited number of air strikes. Currently, Iran seems to have a design center, at least two rocket and missile assembly site plants, a missile test range and monitoring complex, and a wide range of smaller design and refit facilities. The design center is located at the Defense Technology and Science Research Center, located outside Karaj. Its largest missile assembly plant is a North-Korean facility near Isfahan. A second plant is located east of Tehran, near Semnan. Reports claims that Iran has split its manufacturing facilities into plants near Pairza, Seman, Shiraz, Maghdad, and Islaker. The main missile test range is further east, near Shahroud.

Andrew Feickert, “Missile Survey: Ballistic and Cruise Missiles of Foreign Countries,” Congressional Research Service, March, 5 2004,

Anthony H. Cordesman, “Proliferation in the “Axis of Evil”: North Korea, Iran, and Iraq,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, Jan. 3 2003,

Anthony H. Cordesman, “Iran and Nuclear Weapons,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, Feb. 7 2003, “Iran Special Weapons Guide,” Dec. 13, 2003,

Joseph Cirincione, Jon B. Wolfsthal, Miriam Rajkumar, “Deadly Arsenals,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, June 2002,

Ronald H. Siegel, “The Missile Programs of North Korea, Iraq, and Iran,” Institute for Defense & Disarmament Studies, September 2001,

“Unclassified Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions,” Central Intelligence Agency, Aug. 10, 2000. July 1-Dec. 31, 1999 Internet edition



[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Anthony H. Cordesman, “Iran and Nuclear Weapons,” Center for Strategic and International Studies,

[5] Ibid

[6] Jane’s Intelligence Review, Special Report No. May 6, 1995, p. 14. Cited in Anthony H. Cordesman, “Iran and Nuclear Weapons,” Center for Strategic and International Studies,

[7] Anthony H. Cordesman, “Iran and Nuclear Weapons,” Center for Strategic and International Studies,

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid


[11] Ibid

[12] Anthony H. Cordesman, “Iran and Nuclear Weapons,” Center for Strategic and International Studies,