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Iranian Missile Tests

26 July 2019 Lee Willett, Ph.D.

Dr Lee Willett, editor of Jane's Weapons: Strategic

According to Western media reports, Iran test-fired a Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missile (SRBM) earlier this week. Reports suggest the missile travelled a 1,000-km distance.

The Shahab-3 MRBM is a conventional system. The original missile, understood to have entered service in 2003, was reported to have 1,500 km range. Improved variants, which are believed to have been introduced from 2007, may reach ranges of up to 2,000 km.

According to one official US report - the 2017 US Defense Intelligence Ballistic Missile Analysis Committee report on global missile developments - the modified Shahab-3s have improved effectiveness as well as range. The report also noted Iranian claims of mass-producing the missile, although the report added that the number of operational Shahab-3 systems was undetermined at that time.

The test may not in itself be significant news. This is an existing, in-service system and Iran has been testing various missile systems fairly regularly in recent times.

While the test took place at a time of a particular spike in Gulf tensions, perhaps what is most significant is that the test took place only a few days after North Korea was reported to have tested an emerging short-range ballistic missile system. The United States may not currently face a global peer competitor, but its commitments and capabilities will be challenged by having to contend with a number of actors demonstrating capability in different regions at the same time. In such regions, the US has critical national interests to support, including security commitments to key allies.

The test may also underline both sides of the debate about whether Washington was correct to withdraw (in 2018) from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement between Iran and the 'P5+1' states (the five UN Security Council permanent members China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, plus Germany), put in place to ensure Iran does not develop a nuclear weapons capability, in return for lifting sanctions. Supporters of the US decision to withdraw may see such a test as further evidence of the on-going malign behaviour and missile developments Washington pointed to in explaining its withdrawal. As regards arguments for the US remaining part of the JCPOA, some may argue tests such as these have been enabled by the agreement collapsing.

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