Is Iran marching towards an ICBM? On June 15th, the Islamic Republic of Iran acknowledged its plans to conduct a test launch of its new solid-fueled rocket in the near future. One day prior, satellite images captured by Maxar Technologies depicted a rocket positioned on a desert launch pad that has been used by the regime to launch tests in the past.
While Iran’s Defense Ministry announced these plans on Wednesday, the government did not admit to this imminent test launch initially. A spokesperson with Iran’s Defense Ministry described the country’s test launch last year as “successful,” yet the history of Iran’s space program is unquestionably riddled with failures. Despite the outcome of Iran’s approaching test launch, the regime is sending a message to its adversaries including the United States. By carrying out the test, the regime is defying a United Nations resolution that restricts Iran’s ballistic missile development. As tensions between Iran, the U.S., and its regional adversaries have increased in recent months, the regime’s test launch could be considered an escalation.
Launch Sites Redied, But Are They Reliable?
According to Iranian state news sources, two test launches of the Zuljanah solid-fuel satellite carrier rocket are planned for the imminent future. The rocket is equipped with a 200-kilogram payload, a sufficient amount needed for a nuclear warhead. While Iran’s spokesperson claimed an initial test of the rocket was deemed successful by Iran, satellite imagery suggests otherwise.
In late February, the Associated Press reported that Iran likely experienced a testing failure of its Zulijanah rocket. Images captured of the launch pad depicted a damaged surface and debris. In 2019, a mysterious rocket explosion at the Iman Khomeini Space Center destroyed and killed researchers.
Failure to Launch Successfully
While Iran has suffered from several failures in its space department over the last decade, the regime has maintained its commitment to carry out successful launches. In April 2020, Tehran launched its first successful military satellite. The Noor-1 “light” was carried by an indigenously made Qased three-stage space launch vehicle (SLV). This successful launch was extremely significant as it marked the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp’s (IRGC) first success in its new military space program. Additionally, the solid-fuel capability would make Iran’s ballistic missile designs more sophisticated when applied to these weapons in the future.
Iran’s latest test launch comes just one day after an Iranian scientist was mysteriously killed “on a mission.” Over the last year, a series of assassinations and sketchy deaths have plagued top Iranian officials. Israel has claimed responsibility for the targeted killing of Sayad Khodayee in May, according to the New York Times.
The IRGC officer was allegedly the leader of a small task force tasked with kidnapping Israelis and other foreigners around the world. The killing of Iranian scientists may also be perpetuated by the Jewish state, as it undoubtedly sets back the regime’s progress on the nuclear front. Israel’s Begin Doctrine instructs the country to preemptively act to ensure that its adversaries do not obtain nuclear capabilities.
Iran’s ICBM Dreams
Iran’s latest test launch indicates the country could be seeking the launch capabilities needed to perform a successful intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). However, the regime will first have to perfect the reentry of its satellites and warhead targeting to make this threat more formidable.
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.