There was a piece on Military.com (still up at Salon.com) yesterday that parroted some hilarious Iranian claims about the capability of their missiles :
Stressing Iran's preparedness, state television said the Revolutionary Guards planned to begin three days of testing the short-range Zalzal and Fajr-5 missiles Sunday. It could not be confirmed if the exercise had begun near Garmsar city, about 60 miles southeast of Tehran.
"The maneuver is aimed at evaluating defensive and fighting capabilities of the missiles," the report quoted an unidentified Guards commander as saying.
Last year, Iran held three large-scale military exercises to test what it called an "ultra-horizon" missile and the Fajr-3, a rocket that it claims can evade radar and use multiple warheads to hit several targets simultaneously.
The emphasis added was my own. When I first read this, I practically fell out of my chair laughing. For those unacquainted with the Fajr-3, it is spin-stabilized artillery rocket based with a range of about 50 miles. It is typically fired out of tubes mounted on the back of a truck, similar to the classic Katyusha. Iranian generals have tried to pass off the Fajr family of rockets off as some sort of medium range ballistic miracle before, which I imagine was greeted with a healthy amount of skepticism.
The only way an unguided rocket like the Fajr could avoid radar is if it was fired in a really low arc. The efficacy of this option is very limited, however, because it drastically reduces the rocket's range. The MIRV is just silly. The only way that rocket is going to strike a target in multiple times is if it breaks up in mid-air.
By the way, the Fajr also provides a excellent case of why Wikipedia isn't always the greatest source of information. Some poor sap named ArmanJan created a profile for a Fajr-3 ballistic missile based on the erroneous San Diego Trib article I linked to. Check out the discussion page for lots of great back and forth between him and the heroes that defend Wikipedia's veracity on a daily basis.
If that wasn't enough to crack a smile on your face, just look at how inconsistent the Military.com story is with a CBS.com story on the same subject:
The Iranian military on Monday began five days of maneuvers near the northern city of Garmsar, about 62 miles southeast of Tehran, state television reported. The military tested its Zalzal-1 and Fajr-5 missiles, the TV reported.
The Zalzal-1, able to carry a 1,200-pound payload, has a range of 200 miles, making it able to hit anywhere in Iraq or U.S. bases in the Gulf as well as into eastern Saudi Arabia. The Fajr-5, with a 1,800-pound payload, has a range of 35 miles.
Neither could reach Israel, but Iran is known to have missiles that can. It is not known if either missile tested Monday is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.
Again emphasis added. To quote Donald Rumsfeld, "Oh my goodness gracious." 1,800 pound payload? I think I will go with Globalsecurity.org and the Nuclear Threat Initiative's more conservative payload estimate of 90 kilograms (about 200 pounds).
As for the nuclear question, I think that even 1,200 pounds is a bit light for basic gun-type payload. We managed to get our kiloton W9 and W19 nuclear artillery shells down to 850 and 600 pounds, respectively, but I don't know if the Iranians are anywhere near that level of technical prowess yet.
- Crossposted to Naoh Schachtman's blog Defensetech.org
Update 10:30 PM: Noah asked me to weigh in on this DefenseNews.com story about an Iranian hand-launched UAV:
“Researchers in this company have for the first time designed and built four-kilo (nine-pound) hand-launched aircraft,” Rasool Peyghambari, director of aeronautics company Asr-e Talai Factories told the ISNA news agency.
“These aircraft are unique in the country and they are as good as the best and most efficient ones internationally,” he said, adding “we prefer to display its capabilities after operational tests”.
I couldn't tell you much about Iran's hand-launched UAV, but Globalsecurity.org has short entries for the Ababil and Mohajer and armscontrol.ru has a extended article on Iranian UAVs with pictures and data. Needless to say, I don't think they can compete with our snappy F-22 Raptor RC plane, let alone the RQ-11 Raven UAV.