Iran’s Growing Missile and Satellite Threat

Hossein Velayati via Wikimedia Commons

As part of an Iranian military exercise involving a semi-farcical attack on a mock-up U.S. aircraft carrier in the Strait of Hormuz, on Wednesday the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) launched a pair of underground ballistic missiles at the carrier replica (RELATED: Is Iran Going to Try to Sink Another Fake U.S. Aircraft Carrier?). Separately, Iran claims to have used its first military satellite to publish detailed images of a U.S. airbase in Qatar.

Both could be significant developments. Two American bases went on temporarily alert over the launches, reported VOA news.

Ballistic missile fire detected from the drill resulted in American troops being put on alert at Al-Dhafra Air Base in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and Al-Udeid Air Base, the forward headquarters of the U.S. military’s Central Command in Qatar.

Drone footage aired by the IRGC showed “two missiles blasting out from covered positions in what appeared to be a desert plateau in central Iran, with debris flying up in the air in their wake,” according to AP, adding that the IRGC “did not identify the location of the launch, nor the missiles involved.”

AP reported that Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the Guard’s aerospace division, told state television it was the first time the Guard had done this, though the IRGC is known to have vast underground bases hiding its ballistic missile arsenal.

We have carried out the launch of ballistic missiles from the depths of the earth for the first time. That means without utilizing conventional launchpads, the buried missiles suddenly rip out of the earth and hit their targets precisely.

This demonstration could be a sign of fear, however.

“They feel that their missile forces are exposed and that they could be taken out preemptively, expert Melissa Hanham at the Austria-based group, Open Nuclear Network, said in AP (RELATED: Iranian Explosions and Fires – Foreign Attacks or Internal Sabotage?). While the IRGC did not identify the launch site, Hanham also said that “The above-ground footage shown on state television, coupled with investigative techniques, make it possible to locate the site.” She added, “Once you find the silo, it’s really not a safe place to keep your missile anymore.”

Reinforcing the idea that the U.S. can still target Iran’s underground missiles, Michael Elleman, a missile expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, explained in AP that solid-fuel propellant could allow such missiles to be buried for years. However, he added he suspected the U.S. likely knew where the missiles were buried.

“Maybe not all of them, but a large percentage,” Elleman said. “If so, they are vulnerable to pre-launch strikes during a crisis.”

In a related development, Newsweek reported that Iranian state TV claims it’s recently launched Nour-1 satellite – operated by the IRCG – took photos of the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, which hosts the forward headquarters of U.S. Central Command and the headquarters of U.S. Air Forces Central Command.

Iran’s Press TV said the images covered the “full expanse” of the base, but the U.S. has reportedly not commented on, nor confirmed this yet.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has previously stated that this satellite is part of Tehran’s ballistic missile program. In April, after the Nour-1 launch, Pompeo said according to Newsweek, that Iran’s claims of pursuing a peaceful civilian space program was “fiction.”

The IRGC launch, he said, “makes clear what we have said all along: Iran’s space program is neither peaceful nor entirely civilian.”

READ NEXT: Iran Launches First Satellite, Revealing Secret Missile Program >>

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Paul Crespo is the Managing Editor of American Defense News. A defense and national security expert, he served as a Marine Corps officer and as a military attaché with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) at US embassies worldwide. Paul holds degrees from Georgetown, London, and Cambridge Universities. He is also CEO of SPECTRE Global Risk, a security advisory firm, and President of the Center for American Defense Studies, a national security think tank.

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