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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Shahab 4

Country: Iran
Associated Country: North Korea, Russia, Pakistan
Class: MRBM
Warhead: HE, chemical, nuclear
Range: 2000-3000 km
Status: Development


The Shahab 4 has been mentioned in many media and intelligence reports over the last ten years. Unfortunately, those reports have frequently been contradictory and their sum does not provide a clear picture of the Shahab 4 missile project. The program, in fact, may not actually exist. Assuming that the missile is in development, it would probably borrow from the technologies of the Shahab 3 while improving performance characteristics to allow for greater range, a heavier payload, and increased accuracy.

Though Iranian missile development has progressed dramatically in the last 15 years, many experts believe that the Shahab 4 borrows from foreign missile design. In keeping with the North Korea-Pakistan-Iran missile relationship, some speculate that the Shahab 4 is based off of the North Korean No Dong 2 or Taep’o Dong 1missiles or the Pakistani Hatf 5A. Other sources suggest that the Shahab 4 is based on defunct Russian technology from the SS-4 or SS-N-6.1

The No Dong 2 and the Hatf 5A are obvious comparisons with the Shahab 4. The Shahab 3 was based upon the same technology as the No Dong 1 and the Hatf 5, so it makes some sense that the improved versions of those missiles would form the basis of the newer Shahab missile. Of course, Iran has already greatly improved upon the Shahab 3, as discussed in the Shahab 3 variants entry. If the Shahab 4 is based upon the No Dong 2 and Hatf 5A, then it is probably one of the many Shahab 3 variants and not a separate project. Given the tendency of Iranian officials to name and rename projects, this conclusion is likely accurate.

The SS-4 was 22.8 m long with a diameter of 1.65 m and a launch weight of 42,000 kg. Its 1600 kg payload contained a single separating warhead. It used a single-stage liquid propellant engine and an inertial guidance system. The SS-4 had a range of 2000 km (1,243 miles) and an abysmal accuracy of 2400 m CEP.2Depending on similarity between the Shahab 4 and the SS-4, these figures may not be relevant. It is believed that the Shahab 4 will have an accuracy of between 2500 and 3500 m CEP and a range of between 2000 and 3000 km (1,243 to 1,864 miles).2

The Soviet SS-N-6 bears similar specifications to the SS-4 and the projected specifications for Shahab 4, but with increased accuracy (1000m CEP), greater range (2500-4000 km), and a lighter payload (1200kg). Originally submarine launched, the SS-N-6 is believed to have been modified by North Korean, and finally adjusted and assembled by Iran for use as a land-based missile. At the fall of the Soviet Union, many of these SLBMs remained in operational condition. Reports indicate that one or more of these weapons made their way to North Korea before North Korea delivered some of these missiles to Iran.(3)

In 2003 Iran announced that it would close the Shahab 4 program in favor of an SLV program (Satellite Launch Vehicle).4 Since that time Iran has had some success with a domestic space program that has successfully put a small satellite into orbit. Regardless of the space program, however, talk of a Shahab 4 has not completely quieted and many believe that a missile with this designator is still in development. The Shahab 3 and its variants can hardly meet many conceivable range and payload objectives, so it seems reasonable to expect that a new missile is in development.

If the Shahab 4's reported range of 2000 km range is correct, the missile will have the capability to target all of Israel, as well as Turkey, much of India, and US forces stationed in Iraq, Afghanistan, or the Persian Gulf. The missile could substantially increase the political and military leverage held by the Iranian government, especially if Iran develops a nuclear warhead.

An additional threat is the possibility that Iran will give or sell its missile technology to rogue nations or terrorist organizations antagonistic toward the U.S. At present, Iran's missiles are stored and operated in underground sites under the complete control of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which enjoys little outside supervision within Iran. General Mahmud Chahar Baghi of the IRGC stated in 2008 that any act of Israeli aggression would be retorted by the launching of 11,000 missiles within the first minute.5

The Iranian missile program has been shrouded in secrecy, deception, and the unknown. Iran obtains weapons of various design and origin, and frequently retains a single name and reclassifies its physical missile assets, which adds to the confusion. According to Defense Minister Najjar, when asked about the testing of the Shahab 4, "Names and titles are not important in this regard. The important point, though, is that we are proceeding according to our defense doctrine..."6 At present the future of the Iranian missile program is uncertain, but the existence of these missiles proves that ballistic missiles are no longer the purview of first world nations. If the US and its allies are to remain safe they must deploy missile defense systems capable of undermining the effectiveness of these now ubiquitous offensive systems.


1.       Anthony H. Cordesman, “Iranian Weapons of Mass Destruction: Capabilities, Developments, and Strategic Uncertainties,” Center for Strategic & International Studies, 14 October 2008, available at, accessed on 22 October 2010.
2.       Jane’s Strategic Weapons Systems, Issue 46, ed. Duncan Lennox, (Surrey: Jane’s Information Group, January 2007), 564.
3.       Jane’s Strategic Weapons Systems, Issue 45, ed. Duncan Lennox, (Surrey: Jane’s Information Group, July 2006), 583-84.
4.       Jane’s Strategic Weapons Systems, Issue 50, ed. Duncan Lennox, (Surrey: Jane’s Information Group, January 2009), 77.
5.       “Iran: We Can Fire 11,000 Missiles A Minute,” Associated Press, 20 October 2007, featured on CBS, available at, accessed on 8 November 2010.
6.   Yonah Alexander, "The New Iranian Leadership: Ahmadinejad, Terrorism, Nuclear Ambition, and the Middle East," Praeger Publishers ,2008,, Accessed on 9 June 2008.

New Missiles on Display at North Korean Parade

October 13, 2010 :: AP :: News
New military hardware was on display in North Korea on Sunday at a military parade designed to introduce heir apparent Kim Jong Un to his future subjects. An intermediate-range (3000-5000 km) "Musudan" (the U.S. designation of the missile based on what town its flight test center is near) was supposedly on display.

The Musudan, developed by the North Korean military after it acquired Russian R-27 missiles, is nuclear capable and can be launched from the ground or the sea. The missiles were thought to be on display as early as 2007, but no photographs have emerged. It is widely believed that the North Koreans have sold a number of Musudans to Iran, although Iran has never confirmed receipt or testing of the missiles. It may be that the Shahab-4 Iranian IRBM is just a renamed Musudan. The missile has a very short launch preparation time of roughly ten minutes, making it an attractive deterrent. (ArticleLink) 

Iran Developing Longer Range Missiles

December 2, 2004 :: New York Times :: News
Citing an Iranian opposition group, the New York Times today reports that Iran is secretly developing a ballistic missile of considerably longer-range than that which it currently admits to having, in part with the aid of North Korean scientists. The dissident group, also said to be a terrorist group, says the new missile would have a range of more than 1,500 miles (2,400km). Iran has already tested versions of its Shahab-3/4 with a range of 2,000km. Such a range would give the terrorist sponsoring nation the capability to target much of Europe.
        Today the U.S. State Department also slapped sanctions on four Chinese entities (including one state-run firm) and one North Korean company, for their aiding Iran with its missile and weapons programs. Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs are not taking place in a vacuum, and their progress should come as no surprise. The proliferation of ballistic missile and weapons programs to Iran would seem to be a matter of high state policy for China and North Korea, as well as Russia, whose entities regularly receive similar sanctions and which is a primary contributor to Iran’s nuclear reactor programs.
        Update: Dec. 3: Other reports include a more detailed description of the report by the National Council of Resistance of Iran. The council is said to have identified not one, but two longer-range missiles under development, calling them Ghadr 101 and Ghadr 110. Their ranges are said to be 2,500 and 3,000km, respectively. Reuters compares these missiles, being developed at the Hemmat Missile Industries complex, to the more advanced Scud E. Also of note is that the council described Iran’s August test of a Shahab missile as being of the Shahab-4, rather than the Shahab-3. Some have speculated that Iran’s retaining the same nomenclature for a more advanced missile may be part of a design to understate its capabilities. Iran has only admitted to having or pursuing missiles with a range of no more than 2,000km.
        The council quoted by Middle East Newsline on December 2 describes the range of the Shahab-4 as between 2,000 to 3,000 kilometers—which may well be possible, but a 3,000km range for the Shahab-4 would seem to undercut the claim that a 3,000km range Ghadr missile would constitute a real improvement. (ArticleLink) 

Powell: Iran Adapting Missiles to Carry Nuclear Warheads

November 18, 2004 :: Washington Post :: News
Departing Secretary of State Colin Powell recently remarked that Iran is preparing its missile systems to carry nuclear weapons. Despite the attention to the story, however, Powell’s comments do not constitute any new revelation. Nor should they come as any surprise, especially given the aid Iran has been receiving from abroad, and in particular from China and Russia. Unless and until one puts together the pieces to see the larger geopolitical alliances responsible for proliferation, one will continue to be surprised by these numerous and apparently unrelated stories. (More »»») 

Iran Can Mass Produce Shahab

November 9, 2004 :: BBC :: News
Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani today announced that Iran is now capable of mass producing its Shahab-3 ballistic missile. “We are presently able to mass-produce the Shahab-3, just like we do with the Paykan,” the minister said, referring to Iran’s ubiquitous national automobile.
        Shamkhani said that Iran had mastered the necessary technology, and that there were no limits on production. Shamkhani denied that Iran would be developing a longer range missile, and that current increases in range (to 2,000km) were for the purpose of being able to fire it from anywhere in Iran. “These are Zionist words and their intention is to suggest Iran is seeking to threaten Europe…We don’t feel any threat from Europe and we don’t see the need to invest in this field.” (More »»») 

Iran Again Tests Shahab-3

October 20, 2004 :: AFP :: News
Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani announced that Iran had today again tested an upgraded version of its Shahab-3 ballistic missile, in the presence of observers. Shamkhani would not comment on the specific range or the location of the test, but Iran has previously claimed that the “strategic” missile has a range of 2,000km; Iran’s IRNA news agency last month quoted former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani that Iran possessed that capability. Such a range not only threatens Israel, but also U.S. bases in the region and parts of Europe. Rafsanjani also commented at the time, “Experts know that a country that possesses this [range] can obtain all subsequent stages in missile production.”
        On October 7, Nasser Maleki, the deputy director of Iran’s aerospace industry organization, commented that “Very certainly we are going to improve our Shahab-3 and all of our other missiles.”
        Iran’s ballistic missile development has been steady, and not without foreign help. The recent upgrades to the Shahab-3 are believed to be due in part to Chinese assistance, including a more accurate guidance system and an improved warhead more suited to carryign chemical weapons. Hours after today’s test, theMoscow News carried a piece boasting that the Iranian Shahab-3, and the North Korean No-Dong from which it was partly derived, both employ Russian missile technology. (ArticleLink) 

Iran: Missiles Can Now Hit Europe

October 6, 2004 :: News
Iran is increasing its already much-publicized claims for its Shahab-3 and Shahab-4 missiles, which it continues to test and upgrade. This past week, Iran reported again that the Shahab-4 missile has a range of some 2,000 km, and that parts of Europe are now within range. (ArticleLink) 

Iran Tests Upgraded Shahab-3

August 11, 2004 :: News
Iran today tested what it describes as the most recent version of the already deployed Shahab-3 missile. With a range of 1,300km, the missile threatens all of Israel and some U.S. military bases in the Mideast region. The test closely follows upon Israel’s July 29 test of its Arrow II missile interceptor, which it hopes will protect it against especially the Iranian Shahab-3.
        Iran has recently renewed its pledge to wipe Israel “off the map.” The ISNA students news agency quoted Revolutionary Guard Commander Yahya Rahim Safavi as commenting today that the “If Israel behaves like a lunatic and attacks the Iranian nation’s interests, we will come down on their heads like a mallet and break their bones.” The Revolutionary Guard has direct control of the Shahab missile systems.
        Israel defense sources report that Tehran is also developing a “Shahab-4” missile with a range of 1,700 km, but Iran may be adding the additional range to the so-called improved Shahab-3, while understating its potential, and, by keeping the same name, not attract further international scrutiny.  (ArticleLink) 

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