Iran launch site ‘likely for testing ballistic missiles’, analysts say

Ben Farmer — Telegraph.co.uk August 8, 2013

Pictures of the newly discovered site have been published weeks after the Iranian government said it was building new space launch bases for its domestic satellite programme.

East of the space centre , the Iranians are constructing a new facility that could be supporting the Iranian solid rocket propulsion development, associated with the Sejjil and Ashura missiles or even larger missiles – according to Jane's Intelligence analysts, the site could be associated with the next-generation Simorgh rocket. Click to enlarge

The new site is close to Iran’s first space centre in the northern Semnan province, but analysts believe it is designed to test ballistic missiles rather than launch space rockets.

A picture of the base taken last month and published by IHS Jane’s Military and Security Assessments shows a 23m tall launch tower sitting on a launch pad measuring 200m by 140m. The picture also shows a 125m long exhaust deflector.

Analysts said the unfinished site 25 miles south east of the city of Shahrud has no storage for the liquid rocket fuel used in the Iranian space programme, suggesting it is built for ballistic missiles using solid fuel.

Matthew Clements, editor of the assessments, said: “This site could be a facility for launching satellites into orbit. However, Iran is already building at least one other site for this purpose and, looking at the satellite imagery we have got, we believe that this facility is most likely used for testing ballistic missiles.

“Its location and orientation would be suitable for long-range missile tests as they would fly over Iranian territory for 870 miles, meaning large quantities of flight data could be gathered before they drop into the Indian Ocean.

“At the same time, we can’t see any storage facilities for the liquid fuel needed for the rockets that launch satellites, suggesting it will be used for solid-fuel ballistic missiles.” He said there was no indication the Shahrud base was a nuclear facility.

Tehran has said it will dramatically expand its space programme and earlier this year said it had launched a monkey into space and recovered it safely afterwards. Iran already has one space centre at Semnan, 100 miles to the south west of the new site, and the Iranian government has suggested it is building another in south east Iran in Chabahar.

Mohammad Hassan Nami, minister of communication and information technology, said last month Iran was “building other centres too and we are trying to have a powerful start”.

Mr Clements said: “Our findings, along with public Iranian claims, suggest that they would have three launch sites. That seems excessive at a time when Iran is in severe economic difficulties because of Western sanctions.” The development could increase tensions in the Middle East.

Shashank Joshi, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute who has written about the Iranian missile programme, said: “We often talk about Iran’s nuclear programme, but what really spooks countries in the region is the ballistic missiles that could act as a delivery system.

“America has long said Iran might be able to test intercontinental ballistic missiles by 2015, though the programme has been crippled in the past few years by sanctions and covert action.” He said Iran had been developing solid fuel rockets which are quicker to deploy than liquid fuel versions.

He said: “If you look at why their missile programme has been so slow, one reason is their difficulties with solid fuel. A testing site which helps in that regard is concerning. Testing is critical. You don’t improve missiles until you test them.”

The Iranian government did not respond to requests for comment.

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