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Wednesday 21 Feb 2018 | 05:00 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 21 Feb 2018 | 05:00 | SYDNEY

Iran's signals



10 July 2008 14:34

US Defense Secretary Gates is right: there is a lot of signalling going on between Iran and the rest of the world just now, with Iran's recent multiple missile tests just the latest statement.

One message that I haven't seen picked up in the press coverage of these Iranian tests relates to ballistic missile defence. As the New York Times reports, the Iranian test was notable for the salvo firing of two Shahab 3 missiles. OK, so two missiles is only barely a salvo, but the fact that Iran is capable of firing more than one such missile in short order sends an important message to Israel and the US. And that message is that Iran is developing the means to overwhelm both countries' ballistic missile defence systems.

The US is planning to deploy missile defence interceptors to Europe specifically to counter a future Iranian ballistic missile with the range to hit Europe and the US. And Israel already has quite a comprehensive missile defence architecture that has been tested against targets simulating Iran's Shahab 3. But how many inbound missiles can they cope with? Well, the US plans to put just 10 interceptors in Poland initially, and given that it would fire at least two interceptors against any incoming Iranian missile (to increase the chances of a hit), that means Iran would need only six missiles to overwhelm the US system.

Israel's missile defence inventory is somewhat more extensive (perhaps around 100 Arrow II interceptors, judging by this site), but the command and control system would be tested by a large simultaneous launch.

That said, the implicit threat from Iran's salvo launch test is still pretty empty. For one thing, Iran possesses modest numbers of missiles capable of reaching Israel, and none that can hit Western Europe or the US. Even if they did have such missiles, they would be inaccurate and would carry just a few hundred kilos of high explosive. Only with nuclear warheads do such missiles represent a strategic threat.

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