Iran's Nuclear and Missile Potential
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There has been a consensus in the international community — especially in the United States, Europe, and Russia — that Iran should not acquire nuclear weapons. It would be a serious blow to the NPT if Iran were to do so. It might provoke other states in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Syria, for example) to pursue nuclear weapons, thereby further destabilizing an already volatile region. Iranian policies, as well as belligerent statements by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other Iranian leaders, suggest that Iranian nuclear weapons would pose a particular danger to Israel. In the longer run, if Iran acquired nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles, it could pose a nuclear threat to Russia, Europe, and the United States.
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The history of truly indigenous ballistic missile development programs shows that every new phase of development requires tremendous intellectual and material efforts and many years to achieve results. The development and production of modern ballistic missiles requires an advanced R&D and industrial infrastructure, which in turn depends directly on the general level of a country's scientific, technological, and industrial resources. More specifically, it requires: access to the world market for high-tech equipment, materials, and components; a general, diverse, and specialized system of educational, research, and training institutions; a highly developed R&D and industrial base; and a suffi ciently large force of highly qualified and skilled scientists, engineers, and industrial workers.
The leading missile countries have hundreds of research organizations and industrial enterprises cooperating in the development and manufacture of ballistic missiles. In Russia, for example, hundreds of entities participate in production of the "Topol" ICBM. The total number of employees in the Chinese missile and space industry exceeds 200,000, even though China has rather modest achievements in missile technologies compared with the United States and Russia. Iran does not have such an infrastructure; neither do North Korea or Pakistan.
The major scientific, technological and production problems that have to be solved in building an IRBM or an ICBM are as follows:
- a. The development of powerful rocket motors;
- b. Flight control, guidance systems, and telemetry;
- c. Reentry vehicle heat protection;
- d. Construction materials;
- e. Flight testing.
Each of these areas would pose major scientific, technological, and production problems for Iran.
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IRBMs and ICBMs built in this fashion would have a serious disadvantage from Iran's point of view. They would be large, visible, and cumbersome, and they would have to be launched from above ground, not from silos. They would be anchored to their launch sites and would take days to prepare for launch and hours to fuel. The launch sites could be monitored from space, and launch preparations would be visible. Preparation for the launch of such missiles would be vulnerable to preemptive strikes. Because they would not be survivable, missiles of this kind would not provide effective deterrence of an attack on Iran — indeed they might invite an attack — while their use would inevitably elicit a devastating response. If Iran decides to develop IRBMs or ICBMs, it would make sense for it to develop missiles that are mobile and thus hard to find, or based in silos and thus hard to destroy. That would require more advanced technologies than Iran now possesses and would take longer than the development of IRBMs or ICBMs on the basis of existing technology.
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Among the measures the attacker can take to confuse the defense and render it ineff ective are reduction or elimination of the radar refl ections from the warhead by covering the warhead nose with a pointy metallic sleeve and by covering other parts of the warhead with radar absorbent material. Moreover, by scarring the surface of the warhead with wires, it would be possible to create additional refl ections in order to confuse the radars. Decoys could also be deployed that would appear to the kill vehicle's infrared homing sensor as credible targets, thereby making the task of target discrimination extremely diffi cult. Balloons or mock warheads could serve as decoys. Countermeasures of this kind will be readily available to any adversary capable of building, deploying, and operating an IRBM or ICBM.
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The U.S. Missile Defense Agency acknowledges that the proposed system could not handle an attack of that kind. The military recognizes that the first interceptor might miss its target and therefore plans to shoot as many as five interceptors at each incoming missile, in order to reduce the probability that the defenses might be penetrated. The idea is that if the first interceptor misses, the second might not, and so on. If Iran were to attack Europe with two missiles, and the defense were to fire five interceptors at each one, the ten interceptors that are planned for deployment in Poland would be quickly used up. If Iran were to launch more than two missiles at Europe, there might be no interceptors left to repel further attacks.
If Iran believed that U.S. missile defenses were effective and was reckless enough to want to attack Europe or the United States, it could simply build more missiles to overwhelm those defenses. If Iran were to attack Europe with more than one or two missiles, the European missile defense system as proposed could not defend Europe.
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The evidence presented to the Iranian government by the IAEA about alleged military-related research has been based on intelligence received from IAEA member states about work at Iranian research and military organizations pointing to a possible nuclear weapons program. Among these activities are studies of high explosives (HE); conversion of uranium dioxide into uranium tetrafluoride (which might indicate work on the preparation of uranium metal for a bomb); testing of high-voltage equipment for activation of HE detonators and devices for simultaneous activation of several detonators; development of guidelines for assembling and operating a detonation system; plans for the organization of underground tests; testing of a multipoint system for initiation of an HE unit of hemispheric shape; biographical data showing the involvement of an Iranian expert in calculations of the radius of a nuclear explosion ball using the Taylor-Sedov equation, etc.