Security

Iran's failure to manage ballistic missiles casts doubts on new radar

By Ardeshir Kordestani

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Iran's military unveiled the Kashef-99 (Discoverer-99) radar in early September. [Photo via Asr-e Iran]

Iran's record, particularly over the last decade, shows a cavalier attitude towards safeguards, proper use and training with regard to its ballistic missile technology, analysts and observers told Diyaruna.

This raises concerns about whether Iran can be trusted with an allegedly new phased-array radar system, which the Iranian military says was developed domestically and can track up to 300 targets.

Iranian media published photos of the "Kashef-99" (Discoverer-99) radar on September 2nd. Reports described the radar as a "portable phased-array radar capable of tracking up to 300 targets within a range of 12 kilometres".

The tragic January 8th incident in which the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) accidentally shot down a Ukraine-bound passenger jet shortly after it took off from Tehran is only the latest in a string of high-profile errors.

These errors date back to at least 2011, when several top IRGC personnel died in an explosion linked to Iran's missile development programme.

History of errors

In the January airliner incident, an IRGC operative misidentified Ukraine Airlines Flight 752 shortly after it took off from Tehran's Imam Khomeini international airport, bound for Kiev.

He shot three rockets at the aircraft after a communications glitch prevented him from confirming the target with IRGC command.

All 176 people onboard were killed.

This was not the first time in recent memory that the IRGC's use of missiles to hit a target has gone wrong. US-based Iranian journalist Shahin Mohammadi pointed to IRGC operation Lailat al-Qadr, a 2017 missile strike.

Mohammadi said in that operation, the IRGC targeted an "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) base in Syria's Deir Ezzor province, in response to ISIS attacks on Iran's parliament building and Imam Khomeini mausoleum the same year.

At least four of the six missiles missed their target "despite all the resources the IRGC spends on its missile programme", Mohammadi told Diyaruna.

Iran's space programme, which employs rockets as space launch vehicles (SLV), has had three successive failures in recent years, including the explosion of the Safir SLV on August 29th, 2019.

In a separate incident pointing to shortcomings in Iran's management of its missile programme, Iran's navy struck a support vessel during a live training exercise in the Gulf of Oman on May 11th, killing 19 crew members.

"Most of Iran's [military] technology is reverse engineered or bought from Russia, China or North Korea," a retired Iranian navy analyst, who asked to remain anonymous, told Diyaruna.

"None of these countries provide sufficient training or support to ensure safety."

Millions spent in vain

"The recent incidents occurred even though, in 2017 alone, Iran's legislators allocated $520 million to improving Iran's missile capabilities, a move that was intended as a show of defiance against US sanctions," Mohammadi told Diyaruna.

Iranian officials are quick to say that the country's missile programme is meant to "defend Iran against aggression" from the US or the Islamic Republic's regional rivals.

IRGC officials constantly downplay their failures and boast about occasional successes, as they did when the IRGC recently launched a military satellite into a 440-kilometre orbit.

What Iranian officials fail to mention is the immeasurable cost that Iran's poorly managed missile programme has imposed on its people.

That cost is rooted in international isolation and sanctions spearheaded by the US; sanctions intent on curtailing the Islamic Republic's ability to threaten countries in the region, or transfer arms to its regional proxies.

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