The Shahab 1 (translation: Meteor 1) is a single-stage, liquid-fueled, short-range ballistic missile. Iran obtained this weapon in 1987 from North Korea and implemented production of the weapon in the same year, though they may have originally acquired the missiles from Libya in 1985 and Syria in 1986. 1 The Shahab 1 is based off of the ‘Scud B’ platform. In order to understand the caliber of the Shahab 1 it is essential to briefly review the history of the Scud.
While the names of most ballistic missiles are obscure, the ‘Scud’ has become almost a household name. The SS-1A ‘Scud’ was designed a short time after the end of World War II by captured German scientists and is based upon the Nazi V-2 rocket which was used against London in the Second World War. In essence, the ‘Scud’ is the AK-47 of the missile world: reliable, simple and ubiquitous. The missile was produced in huge quantities and not even the Russians know exactly how many they built, let alone the number copied by foreign countries.
While most ‘Scud’ missiles now carry conventional explosives, the ‘Scud’ was originally developed to carry a 50 kT nuclear warhead. The SS-1B ‘Scud A’ (Russian designation R-11) entered into service in 1955 as a short range nuclear weapon to attack western Europe and was intended to carry a nuclear 50 kT yield warhead. The high explosive (HE) warhead was developed for export to other communist countries in the Cold War whom the Soviet Union was leery of giving nuclear strike capabilities.
The ‘Scud A’ was soon replaced with the SS-1C ‘Scud B’ The new missile had the advantage of being compatible with a transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) and could thus be deployed quickly and covertly. The TEL has built-in test equipment and is able to aim and fire the missile autonomously, though a separate command and control vehicle typically controls the targeting and firing. Aboard a TEL, a typical ‘Scud B’ takes approximately one hour to finish a single launch sequence.
By 1965, the new ‘Scud B’ missile was operational in many European and Middle Eastern counties. In 1973, Egypt fired a small number of the ‘Scud B’ missiles against Israel. Over 600 ‘Scud B’ and North Korean ‘Scud B’ variants were fired by Iran and Iraq between 1980 and 1988. Over 2,000 ‘Scud B’, and possibly a small number of ‘Scud C’ missiles, are thought to have been used in Afghanistan. The ‘Scud’ missiles used by Iraq during the Gulf War in 1991 were largely the Iraqis’ own improved variant of the ‘Scud B’, the Al Hussein. There were also a small number of ‘Scud’ missiles used in the 1994 civil war in Yemen and by Russia in Chechnya in 1996. A Russian report suggests that there were four ‘Scud B’ TEL and approximately 100 missiles in Afghanistan, some with the Taliban and some with Massoud’s forces, and could have been possibly passed to other various terrorist organizations. In 1998, Ukraine was reported to have three brigades with ‘Scud B’ missiles and a total of 55 missiles in service. Libya paraded in 1999 with some 20 refurbished ‘Scud B’ TEL vehicles with missiles. It is thought that this was done with assistance from North Korea.
‘Scud B’ missiles have been exported to: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Egypt, Georgia, Hungary, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, North Korea, Libya, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Syria, UAE, Ukraine, Vietnam, and Yemen. Unconfirmed reports between 1996 and 2000 have suggested that ‘Scud B’ missiles have been purchased by Armenia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, Pakistan, Peru, and the Sudan. These missiles may have been built in the former Soviet Union. It has been reported that as many as 7,000 Scud missiles may have been built in Russia and that ‘Scud B’ missiles and improved variants have been built in Egypt, Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Syria. Consequently, it is difficult to identify the source and quantity of missile supplies. 2
In addition to the very high production level of the ‘Scud’ missiles, a myriad of variations and additions exist for the ‘Scud’ platform. Several different warheads were developed for the ‘Scud B’ missiles including nuclear yields between 5 and 70 kT, chemical agents, and conventional high explosives.
The Iranian Shahab 1 is 10.94 m long, 0.88 m in diameter and has a launch weight of 5860 kg, with a minimum range of 50 km and a maximum range of 300 km (186 miles). It has an accuracy of 450 m CEP. 3 These specifications are nearly identical to the North Korean ‘Scud B’ variant, which is unsurprising as many (if not most) Shahab 1 missiles were probably built by North Korea and delivered to Iran. Even as Iran has developed the ability to indigenously produce missiles (also with North Korean assistance), many of the components are still believed to be imported from North Korea. 4
The Iranian involvement with the ‘Scud’ missile is significant, both in terms of domestic Iranian missile development and in terms of missiles available on the export market. The Iranian government is reported to have made its first test launch of a domestically-built ballistic missile in 1988, which was believed to be a ‘Scud B’ variant with a range of 300 km (186 miles) and a payload of 985 kg, developed with the assistance of either North Korea or the People’s Republic of China (PRC). 5
The weapon system was publicly tested again in 1998 in the Caspian Sea. This test is very important to the study of Iran’s ballistic missile program. The Shahab 1 that was tested in the Caspian was launched from a TEL aboard a commercial vessel. This constitutes a different kind of missile threat to the United States and coastal range countries. The ‘Scud’ then has the possibility of being covertly brought adjacent to a coastline and launched without notice. Then, as quickly as the weapon fired, it could return to covert status. This method of delivery brings the weapon in closer range, which improves its accuracy, and decreases its chance of being spotted by radar. Due to the flight time of the missile, it could be delivered without major radar signal. 6
After the Iran-Iraq War, Iran continued to fire Shahab 1 missiles. Four missiles were fired from Iran into Iraq at what was classified as a guerilla base in 1994. In 1999, reports indicate eight missiles were fired at targets in Iraq between April and November.
In 2001, reports indicate that nearly 70 missiles of varying class and designation were fired into Iraq from Iran. Iran is reported to have purchased a number of Syrian and 120 North Korean ‘Scud B’ missiles. United States Air Force reports from 1996 indicate that number could be in the 200s. Also, the same report implicates North Korea in the sale of approximately 170 ‘Scud C’ missiles to Iran. The precise number of these missiles, however, is quite uncertain. Several factors contribute to the uncertainty of Iran’s arsenal. Iran tends to be extremely secretive and often re-designates systems without warning or notification. Also, Iran has several production facilities which build their own variants of the original systems purchased from North Korea or China. Therefore, the exact numbers of domestically produced, and foreign bought missile systems is unclear.
Reports confirm that Iran has the capability of producing these weapons in great quantity. Their major contracts for these particular missile systems have been given to Iran Aerospace Industries (IAI). Reports indicate with some certainty that due to the amount of weapons displayed, used, and available for operation, that IAI has the capability of producing these weapons in quantities necessary for domestic and export use. Further reports indicate that Iran has the ability to manufacture North Korean ‘Scud C’ variants with a range of 500 km (342 miles) and a payload of 770 kg. 7
- Kenneth Katzman, Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, “Iran’s Long Range Missile Capabilities,” 1998, available at http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/library/report/1998/rumsfeld/pt2_katz.htm, accessed on 19 October 2010. ↩
- Lennox, Duncan. “Shahab 1 (R-17 (SS-1C ‘Scub B’) variant).” Jane’s Strategic Weapon Systems (Offensive Weapons). September 7, 2012. (accessed September 12, 2012). ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Iran’s Ballistic Missile Capabilities: A Net Assessment, an IISS Strategic Dossier, The International Institute for Strategic Studies, (East Sussex: Hastings Print, May 2010) 14-17. 5. ↩
- Lennox, “Shahab 1 (R-17 (SS-1C ‘Scub B’) variant).” ↩
- Kenneth R. Timmerman, Countdown to Crisis: The Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran, (New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2005) 315-318. ↩
- Lennox, “Shahab 1 (R-17 (SS-1C ‘Scub B’) variant).” ↩