Reason to doubt Iran’s hypersonic claim

Omar Adan
Omar Adan

Global Courant

Iran has just publicly unveiled its first hypersonic missile, an announcement that has sparked speculation about whether the missile is a functional weapon, bombastic propaganda or something in between.

Al Jazeera reported this this month that Iran unveiled its first hypersonic weapon, known as “Fattah”, which means “opener” in Farsi.

According to Al Jazeera, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and senior commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) displayed the Fattah at an unveiling ceremony.

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Iranian state media claim that the Fattah can reach speeds of Mach 15, has a range of 1,400 kilometers, uses solid propellant technology and has a movable nozzle for high maneuverability.

David Pappalardo notes in a 2022 Air & Space Operations Review article that Iran’s hypersonic missile may consist of a maneuverable reentry vehicle (MaRV) mounted on a ballistic missile body, with Iran focusing on developing maneuverable warheads.

Pappalardo says such missiles serve an intimidation purpose for regional and major power competition. However, he notes that the hypersonic strike capability could represent a steep technological curve for Iran, as the weapon requires a highly integrated intelligence, targeting and command architecture in which space resources are paramount.

However, hypersonic weapons could be a possible area of ​​cooperation between Iran and Russia. Their shared contempt for the Western-dominated international order, the common cause in the war in Ukraine and heavily sanctioned economies have made them brothers in arms.

Global Courant reported in August 2022 that Iran had successfully launched its native Khayyam satellite using a Russian Soyuz rocket from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome. Iran’s Khayyam may be a variant of Russia’s Kanopus-V satellite, which Iran had been negotiating with Russia to acquire since 2018.

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While the Kanopus-V’s camera has only a resolution of 1.2 meters, well below that of high-end US spy and commercial imaging satellites, it is a major upgrade over Iran’s previous reconnaissance satellites, which have been derided as “ webcams tumbling into space. ”

The Khayyam and other similar satellites can provide target data for Iran’s missile arsenal, provide its proxies with space-based intelligence, and track US and Israeli forces around the world.

In addition to collaborating on the necessary space-based intelligence and targeting infrastructure for hypersonic weapons, Russia and Iran may have collaborated on the design of hypersonic weapons.

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In November 2022, Global Courant reported that Iran appears to have developed a hypersonic weapon with Russian technical assistance in exchange for support for its struggling war effort in Ukraine. China, North Korea and Russia have all helped Iran to varying degrees with its missile program.

Iran is struggling to make its missiles accurate enough for offensive use as it has yet to develop adequate stabilization and precision guidance systems for its missile forces.

Thus, Iran may have demanded a quid pro quo in its strategic partnership with Russia, trading military equipment such as Shahed ammunition loitering, artillery shells and munitions, and body armor in exchange for technical know-how in hypersonic weapons.

So far, Iran is not known to have conducted hypersonic weapons tests. Although Iran has a sizeable domestic arms industry, it has been known to exaggerate its military capabilities.

One such case was that of the Qaher-313 stealth fighter, which Western analysts dismissed as outright fake. That sparked immediate skepticism about Iran’s hypersonic weapons claim.

Western analysts doubt that Iran claims that Qaher-313 really exists. Image: Twitter

Iran International notes that current hypersonic weapons technology supports designs that fly between Mach 5-6, so Iran’s claim of Mach 15 for the Fattah may be an exaggeration.

Iran International also notes that hypersonic weapons pose significant technical challenges to established military powers such as the US, China and Russia, with these countries facing issues related to the reliability, accuracy and effectiveness of their current designs.

The report also points out that while the Fattah is most likely a hypersonic glider (HGV) mounted on a ballistic missile body, Iranian officials have not clarified whether it would reach hypersonic speed during the first phase of the flight, powered by a ballistic missile. missile, or glide towards the target during the final phase.

Nevertheless, Iran has the largest missile arsenal in the Middle East and building a hypersonic weapon could fall within its priorities and capabilities.

Behnam Ben Talebu and James Syring write in a February 2023 report by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy that Iran and its proxies rely on extensive missile arsenals to punish and deter action against their regional networks, with the strategic goals of driving the US out of the Middle East and forcing regional states to accommodate Iran’s interests .

Talebu and Syring note that Iran’s missile arsenal is critical to the regime’s existence, its revolutionary foreign policy, and the capabilities of its proxies.

They note that Iranian officials take pride in their country’s status as the preeminent missile force in the Middle East and use that power to push for regional hegemony.

They say Iranian officials often brag about their country’s missile and military progress under sanctions, touting it as an example for other countries facing similar circumstances.

They also mention that Iran views opposition to its missile program as hostility to the regime, saying that pressuring Iran to disarm is tantamount to asking it to be helpless against its opponents.


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Reason to doubt Iran’s hypersonic claim

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