Iran has outdone itself in the
last month, announcing three breakthroughs in military technology, describing
new systems that, on close examination amount to, well, nothing. First there
was the announcement of a new robotic submarine. No details were given, but it
was soon discovered that such devices are available on the commercial market, mainly
for scientific research. Some nations buy them for military purposes.
Apparently Iranian submarine designers know how to use Google, but their
counterparts in the publicity department did not.
the announcement of having combat aircraft that can fly 3,000 kilometers
without refueling. Amazing? No, as Iran has had such aircraft (the U.S. F-4
fighter) for over thirty years. What were the Iranians thinking when they
issued this press release?
last weeks ballistic missile launch, which the Iranians touted as a successful
test of a satellite launcher. Up until now, Iran has been buying satellite
launching services from Russia (as does the United States and many other
countries). The reality, as monitored by
the radars of U.S. warships off the Iranian coast, was a launch failure. When
the missile reached an altitude of about 16 kilometers, it broke up as the
second stage fired. Information later leaked out of Iran that the missile was
carrying a low tech communications satellite. Apparently even the Iranians were
not willing to entrust this new version of their Safir ballistic missile with
an expensive satellite. The real mystery here is, why go ahead with these lies
when it is so obvious that the truth will eventually come out? Apparently the
Iranians believe that the initial lie will impress more people, than the
eventual debunking will even reach. The Iranian religious dictatorship is preaching
to their base, which tends to be poorly educated and suspicious of anyone who
would criticize their religious leaders.
phony hype is nothing new. It's been going on for years. Earlier this year, the
Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), announced that they had flight tested
a new, Iranian made, helicopter gunship. They also announced a new UAV with a
range of 2,000 kilometers. Late last year, the Iranians showed off a new
Iranian made jet fighter, which appeared to be a make-work project for
unemployed engineers. It's a bunch of rearranged parts on an old U.S. made F-5
(which was roughly equivalent to a 1950s era MiG-21). The new fighter, like so
many other Iranian weapons projects, is more for PR than for improving military
If you go
back and look at the many Iranian announcements of newly developed, high tech,
weapons, all you find is a photo op for a prototype. Production versions of
these weapons rarely show up. Iranians
know that, while the clerics and politicians talk a tough game, they rarely do
anything. Even Iranian support of Islamic terrorism has been far less effective
than the rhetoric. The Iranians have always been cautious, which is one reason
Arabs fear them. When the Iranians do make their move, it tends to be decisive.
But at the moment, the Iranians have no means to make a decisive move. Their
military is mostly myth, having been run down by decades of sanctions, and the
disruptions of the 1980s war with Iraq. Their most effective weapon is bluster,
and, so far, it appears to be working.
Iranians know that nuclear weapons would make their bluff and bluster even more
muscular. Even the suspicion that they had nukes would be beneficial. And that
appears to be the current plan. One new weapon the Iranians do put a lot of
money and effort into are ballistic missiles. They are building an extended range (from 1,300 to 1,800
kilometer) version of their Shahab 3
ballistic missile. The new version puts all of Israel within range, even if
fired from deep inside Iran. Chemical warheads (with nerve gas) are thought to be available for these
missiles. But Israel has threatened to reply with nuclear weapons if the
Iranians attack this way. Iran would probably get the worst of such an
exchange, and the Iranians are aware of it.
Not all of
the clerics that run the country are eager to go to war with Israel, or even
threaten it. But because the clerical factions do not want to appear at odds
with each other in public, the more radical leaders are allowed to rant away
about attacking Israel. That's also the thinking behind the many IRGC press
conferences announcing imaginary new weapons. The clerics are not going spend
billions on mass production of second rate systems that are most notable for
being designed in Iran.