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US-Russia Assessments of Iran BM Programme (Leaked - 2009)
#1
I recently found a leaked cable (on Wikileaks) of a US-Russia Joint Threat Assessment Talks from December 2009. These talks focused on Iran and North Korea's ballistic missile programmes - their current state, progress, and future problems. (https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/10STATE17263_a.html

It is a really fascinating read to see what the US/Russia thought of Iran's missile programme in 2009. I will summarise some of the key parts relating to Iran below, but a general theme is that Russia sought to downplay Iran's achievements whereas the US was more concerned with Iran's progress. This has to be understood for political reasons - the US was using Iran's BM threat to justify ABM radars etc near Russia, so Russia obviously had an interest in denying this was necessary. 

On Shahab-3M:
- Russia: confirmed range of 1700km by reducing warhead to 250kg
- Russia: "this very nearly exhausts the potential for Iran to increase the range of the Shahab-3 or make further improvements to Scud-based missile technology"
Russia: Shahab-3 has CEP accuracy of "several kilometers" and "cannot do substantial damage" [due to Russia's belief that the modified longer-range versions use 250kg warhead]
- US: based on US modelling, Shahab-3 has 600kg warhead at 2,000km range --> Russia conceded there was uncertainty and 250kg was "at the low end of Russia's estimate" 
US: Using aluminium airframe instead of steel + increased engine thrust would allow Iran to achieve 2,000km range with 600kg warhead in Shahab-3 --> Iran has been seeking various aluminium alloys, so the US drew this connection 

On solid-fuel missiles (Sejjil) and engine fuel:
- Russia: Iran calling Sejjil tests of 2009 successful were "optimistic... Russia believes Iran will need another 2-3 years of testing to perfect the missile" and it will not be deployed for 5-6 years
- US: Sejjil not a "technology demonstrator... Iran will be ready to field it in less than the 5-6 year timeframe Russia envisions... the US... would not be surprised if a two-stage system with a range up to 2,000km were fielded within a year... not all countries follow the same testing procedures as the US and Russia"
- Russia: Iran has been working on trying to produce UDMH/N2O4 "for approximately 10 years, and Russia has not seen any serious results"
- Russia: producing solid fuel missiles "is a very difficult process" and Iran "has not mastered this" --> Iran has not solved "the problem of thermal isolation of the engine from the airframe... [or] the problem of thrust vector control and gas steering technologies"
Russia: "Iran cannot produce high-quality spherical aluminum powder and without this it cannot reliably produce solid fuel... even Israel needs to buy ammonium perchlorate from abroad... In Russia's view, Iran appears to be having very serious problems with engine development"
Russia: "Iran is having problems generally because it did not develop the technology in Iran and is trying to work off of North Korean technology" 

On Safir SLV:
- Russia: Succeeded in putting 26kg Omid satellite into orbit - but this used "the maximum potential of its liquid-propellant technology" --> "the size of the Omid is the limit of what Iran could put into orbit"
- US: broadly agreed, but said Iran could cluster Shahab engines to boost payloads (Russia doubted the military application of such clustering)

On the 'BM-25':
- Russia: questioned the existence of this "myth" of a missile
- US: makes sense for Iran to buy an untested missile with superior engine technology to "work on for reverse engineering" 

On future of Iran's missiles:
- Russia: "Iran might be able to begin a program to develop BMs with ranges of between 3,000-5,000km after 2015, but Russia does not see Iran taking any steps in this direction"
- Russia: "Iran lacks appropriate structure materials for long-range systems, such as high quality aluminum" 
- Russia: "the technology for longer-range missiles is sophisticated and difficult to master. For example... the guidance system for the missile (Shahab-3) is outdated and does not allow for precision steering... In addition, the liquid propellants used by the Iranians are of low efficiency"
- Russia: Iran is working to improve engine power and fuel efficiency, however "it faces significant challenges" 
- US: 3 paths for Iran to develop long range missiles: 1) "using the Shahab-3 with clustered or stacked engines", 2) "the so-called BM-25 missile that the US believes was sold to Iran by NK" and 3) "development of a solid-propellant MRBM with more powerful motors"

Conclusions:
- Russia: "Russia believes the possibility of improvement of its liquid propellant missiles is nil"
- Russia: "Iran does not have the military-industrial capability to develop such a program [a MRBM with 3,000km range and warhead of one ton]"
- Russia: "even with the assistance of foreign technology... it will take Iran 6-8 years to gain the ability to launch an MRBM with a nuclear warhead"

What are everyone's thoughts about this?

I think the leaked report gives a good assessment of where Iran's BM programme was in 2009 and the problems it faced.

The problems with UDMH/N2O4 fuel seem to be finally resolved with the Khorramshahr in 2017-2019.

It is not clear that the problems with solid-fuel have been fully resolved - Sejjil has not been tested for a long time and not many are seen other than a few at parades... [Have any been shown in the underground missile bases?]

In terms of Safir SLV, Iran put 50kg Navid satellite into LEO only 3 years later, so it seems the US was more correct about Iran's ability to cluster engines and improve payload capacity. Simorgh SLV seems to be close to putting a 100kg+ satellite into LEO which is the next big step, then the Khorramshahr engines can be clustered to produce a far more powerful next gen SLV (in theory).

The Russians were exposed about the BM-25 being a "myth" after the Hwasong-10 and Khorramshahr were tested!

The Russians' comments about lack of precision-steering seem to be somewhat answered by the Emad guided-warhead (now fitted on the Khorramshahr-2, Qiam and Qadr as well).

As for Russia saying "Iran does not have the military-industrial capability to develop such a program [a MRBM with 3,000km range and warhead of one ton]", this is no longer true as of 2017-2019 with the Khorramshahr (reduce warhead to 1000kg and probably can reach 3000km), so that is a big development, although they were quite accurate with their 6-8 years estimate.

It looks like the 2nd path the US outlined (BM-25) has been realised via the Khorramshahr, and the 3rd path (solid-fuel MRBM with more powerful engines) is in progress in Shahrud...
  


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