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What Iran is Learning from Russia’s 2,000 Missile Strikes in Ukraine

Tu-22M3
Tu-22M3M from the Russian Air Force.

Iran is watching closely events in Ukraine with a focus on missile technology and warfare – Russia has launched nearly 2,000 ballistic and cruise missiles during its ongoing invasion of Ukraine. The scope and scale of its barrage are unprecedented in the realm of 21st-century warfare. While the majority of the international community has condemned Putin’s indiscriminate bombardments of Ukrainian cities to some degree, the Islamic Republic of Iran has a different takeaway. 

Iran is Studying Activity

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp. (IRGC) and the Russian military bear parallel strategy and tactical capacity to some degree. Iran has witnessed Russia’s inability to project air superiority over Ukraine and observed its consequential reliance on its missile arsenal to maintain an upper hand over its perceived enemy. In recent years, the IRGC has depended on the development of its missile arsenal to serve as a critical tool of deterrence. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has proved the merits of this strategy.

In the last five years or so, Iran’s missile arsenal has greatly expanded to include highly accurate ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and drones. While Iran perhaps first began to prioritize its missile development with the ultimate ambition of using them as nuclear delivery systems, the regime’s success in utilizing these weapons in recent conflicts and missions has proved ulterior usefulness. The IRGC has used its newly advanced arsenal to conduct attacks targeting the Islamic State in Syria, oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, and Kurdish groups in northern Iraq. Iran has also been supplying its militias across the region with more lethal explosive-laden drones. 

Iran’s emphasis on its missile capabilities is even spelled out in an internal bulletin from the IRGC. It reads, “Missiles, by building the balance of fear, can prevent war and will force adversaries to resort to diplomacy.” While this push to advance its missile arsenal began years before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the ongoing conflict has strengthened Iran’s assertion. According to the Middle East Institute, Iran’s Deputy Chief of General Staff for the Armed Forces, Maj. Gen. Aziz Nasirzade, referred to Russia’s use of missiles in Ukraine as a teachable moment. He added, “The key lesson from the Ukraine war is that you cannot close your eyes on deterrence and talk about limiting your missile (military) power.”  

Additionally, Russia’s constant bombardment of Ukraine has sidelined its Air Force’s weak display of airpower. Despite its poor performance in the skies, Russia’s missile barrage has caused large-scale destruction and setbacks for the Ukrainian army. The Iranian Air Force flies very outdated U.S. airframes and would be unlikely to project air power against its adversaries in conflict. If Russia can make up for its poor air performance with its large missile arsenal, why can’t Iran?

The logic that a country cannot depend on assurances from foreign powers to guarantee its security has molded Iran’s tactical priorities. The ongoing U.S-Iranian joint nuclear negotiations in Vienna have been fruitless at best, and the regime views these negotiations as precarious and unreliable anyway. In the eyes of Iran’s leadership, its growing and advancing missile power is the only way to achieve effective deterrence.

Maya Carlin is a Middle East Defense Editor with 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.

Written By

Maya Carlin is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Arash P

    May 21, 2022 at 11:46 pm

    Iran is learning…
    Yes, Iranians are capable of learning too! What a crime! As if no one else in the world learns anything from on-going wars! Aren’t Israelis, Americans, or every other nation for that matter, closely studying the events in Ukraine? What is this obsession with Iran?!

    • thelaine thelaine

      May 23, 2022 at 10:27 am

      I would say it is because Iran is a barbaric terrorist theocracy, run by corrupt mullahs who support homicidal maniacs all over the world. Most of the world will never accept being dominated by the medieval religious fanatics who run Iran. They are so offensive, they have driven their fellow Muslims into an alliance with Israel. Go figure.

      • Al

        May 25, 2022 at 11:57 pm

        Making up accusations like that is only believable by likes of you.

    • Doyle

      May 23, 2022 at 11:27 am

      Pariah nation, terrorist state….yes they need to be watched and watched closely.

  2. Mohammad hoseini

    May 22, 2022 at 4:07 am

    The missile attack on Saudi Arabia was carried out by Yemeni forces and no source has confirmed the attack by Iran. The missile attack on ISIL also destroyed ISIL, which was a terrorist group. Iran’s missile arsenal is purely defensive, and there has never been an attack from Iran on neighboring countries.

    • Jebsie

      May 22, 2022 at 10:09 am

      Maya carlin żydowski lachociąg zapomniała o tym że Iran również zestrzelił super chiper zajefajnego drona uSSa i rozdupcyl bazę zydostwa w Iraku

    • Doyle

      May 23, 2022 at 11:30 am

      Ballistic missiles are not defensive in nature especially considering the fanatic controlling the button.

    • Edmund

      May 23, 2022 at 7:53 pm

      Give it a rest Mohammad, ballistic missiles aren’t ever defensive. They are inherently, and by design offensive. I’d suggest simply using Google to search “Iranian missile attack on Iraq,” but either you know, don’t want to know, or aren’t allowed ot know.

    • donald duck

      May 23, 2022 at 7:54 pm

      you must live under a rock
      Iran Literally launched missiles into Iraq multiple times..

  3. Gideon539

    May 23, 2022 at 9:53 am

    This author left out several crucial details. Russia’s invasion has led to more EU solidarity than has been seen in a long time. Similarly, Iran’s belligerency has been one reason for Arabs and Jews cooperating in ways no one had ever thought possible.
    As well, Israel has been on the receiving end of thousands of missiles by terrorist groups, some of which were provided by Iran. The notion that Russia’s rocket barrage on Ukraine is unprecedented would be offensive to most Israelis. Hezbollah launched thousands of rockets in 30 days at Israel in 2006. Hamas and PIJ have launched thousands more.

    The rocket attacks led to Israel having a multi-layered missile defense network of kinetic interceptors. Arrow 2 & 3 [ballistic defense], David’s Sling [cruise missile defense], and Iron Dome [katusha level, and some cruise missile defense]. They can also use the APKWS laser guided 2.75inch rockets as missile defense in surge capacity if needed. A single Apache can carry close to 100 of those, they can also be used as an offensive weapon, and they cost about half an Iron Dome interceptor.

    As well, the IDF also has Scorpius coming online soon. That is an AESA radar based electronic warfare system that also acts as missiles defense. The more tech the Iranians put in their missiles to try and make them accurate, the easier it is for Scorpius to defeat them. As well, AESA can engage multiple targets at the same time, and uses no kinetic interceptor, meaning it basically has an unlimited capacity to defeat incoming threats within its range. And I havent even gotten to Iron Beam, that is a solid state laser system for missile defense coming soon also.

    Bottom Line: Israel is quickly turning the cost factor on its head and into their favor making it quite inexpensive to defend against a wide array of threats from Iran and their terrorist proxies. There are plenty of other reasons that Arabs and Jews have begun to work together, but the more Iran helps to accelerate the process, the more likely it will be that Israel sells drone defense, and missile defense tech to the Arab states. An Israeli AI powered drone company was helping to defend the Expo 2020 in Dubai. Expect that cooperation to expand rapidly.
    And/Or perhaps the US CENTCOM helps Israel and the Arabs work together to defend the Arab states against Iran. The US Navy also just unveiled a similar AESA radar based missile defense system. Either way, neither time nor tech are not on Iran’s side in this situation.

    • Bill Hocter

      May 23, 2022 at 8:00 pm

      I think you’ve got it right and that the author has missed the point. Iran can’t hope to equal Russia in the strength of its missile attacks nor can Ukraine hold a candle to Israel in missile defense prowess. Yet Ukraine is still standing.

      Iran will pay an awful price in a war against Israel. Missiles won’t save it.

  4. Hoi Polloi

    May 23, 2022 at 12:38 pm

    Ballistic missiles are a poor alternative for nations unable to field an effective air force, or incapable of projecting airpower at operationally meaningful distances. Their utility is limited to striking fixed strategic targets, and as a terror weapon for civilian populations.

    Ballistic missiles cannot hit moving targets, cannot be employed against time sensitive targets, and cannot provide tactically effective support to ground operations.

    That is mostly the observation here.

  5. Charlie 2022

    May 23, 2022 at 12:55 pm

    From what I’ve seen a lot of the cruise missiles are being launched by Russian aircraft from a stand off position out of range of Ukraine air defenses.

    • The Dark Lord

      May 25, 2022 at 10:46 am

      pretty sure Russia has air superiority over eastern Ukraine … i.e. over the current battlespace …

  6. Edmund

    May 23, 2022 at 2:27 pm

    I would think the key takeaway would be that conventional missiles are a poor way of actually projecting power and control of any region. When used in a coordinated attack including air and ground forces, ballistic missiles have speed, surprise, and a great degree of violence. When followed up with nothing, the speed and surprise don’t matter much and the damage is worked around.

    The key takeaway of the Ukrainian war is the Soviet (China) style of arms aren’t effective at the speed of Western intel and tech.

    The most important weapons delivered to Ukraine is obviously the Javelin (and the like), but also the 10,000 or more non-trackable cell phones in the field allowing rapid delivery of command and control.

  7. mawendt

    May 23, 2022 at 5:10 pm

    Iran *is* learning…

    … that if a nation has Western/US made equipment equipment/weapons systems, it will kick the crap outta the nation that has Eastern/Russian made equipment and weapon systems.

    And that if you’re gonna use missile strikes, you’re gonna need a lot more missiles.

    Iran is most probably trying to figure out how it can dump all that Russian made military crap on the open market and replace it with something that works.

  8. Anymike

    May 25, 2022 at 1:28 am

    Diplomacy? Isn’t that a dirty word at the moment?

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