Iran Claims Successful Test of Shahab-3 Variant

October 2000

Fueling concerns that Iran is making rapid advancements in its ballistic missile program, Iran's state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported September 21 that Iran had "successfully tested" a Shahab-3D ballistic missile—its second Shahab test in just over two months. U.S. officials would not confirm that a test had taken place, but a Pentagon official said, "We know that Iran will continue to test the Shahab missiles [and that] they will continue to develop a longer-range missile capability."

The announcement of the Shahab-3D test unveils a previously unknown variant of the liquid-fueled, road-mobile Shahab-3. At present, the range and payload of the 3D version are unknown; however, the September 21 IRNA report specified that the Shahab-3D employs a combination of solid-liquid propellant, which would make the missile Iran's first to incorporate solid-fuel technology. The Shahab-3 is a 53 foot-long, 1,300 kilometer-range ballistic missile that was first tested in 1998 and again this July. (See ACT, September 2000.)

Iranian government radio maintained that the September 21 test was for nonmilitary purposes to allow Iran to begin "design and production" of "satellite guidance systems." However, such claims have done little to ease U.S. threat assessments because the technology required to launch satellites is similar to that for a ballistic missile system.

In a September 21 subcommittee hearing of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, Robert Walpole, the National Intelligence Council's officer for strategic and nuclear programs, warned that despite the Iranian government's contention, the intelligence community considers the Shahab-3D "a missile, not a space-launch vehicle." Walpole testified that Tehran has a "very active" program that could test a missile capable of carrying a biological or chemical weapon to the United States "in the next few years."

The September 21 test occurred on the first day of Holy Defense Week, a yearly commemoration of the beginning of the Iran-Iraq War in 1980. To commemorate the war's anniversary, both the Iranian regular military and the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have traditionally held war games, conducted maneuvers, and staged parades showcasing their military hardware.