Strategic Weapons: July 14, 2003


Last week. Iran said it had successfully completed the testing program for it Shihab-3 ballistic missile. With a range of 1300 kilometers and a half ton warhead, the 42 ton missile can reach Israel. It will be years before Iran can get a half ton nuclear warhead for this missile, although in the meantime it can use a chemical warhead. But even here it will need technical assistance, as chemical weapons are notoriously vulnerable to heat, and a missile warhead plunging towards earth is one very hot object. Russia was supposed to have developed chemical warheads for ballistic missiles during the Cold War, but no one has ever confirmed that their technology actually worked. Putting a high explosive warhead on a $20 million missile is not a very cost effective way to make war. And Israel can respond with nuclear weapons if things really get out of hand. The development of the Shihab-3 has gone on for some ten years. The Shihab-3 is based on North Korea's No-Dong missile, which is in turn based on the Soviet SCUDs which, in turn are based on the German World War II V-2. The Shihab-3 is basically using obsolete technology, as it's liquid fuel engine is inherently dangerous and unreliable. The last flight test was attempted in early 2002, but the missile exploded while being fueled. Nevertheless, Iran says it will now start producing Shihab-3s for their armed forces. 


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