As The Diplomat reported on Monday, last weekend Israel carried out a number of air raids on missile deposits in Syria that were said to have been destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon. Officials said the missiles that Israel was targeting were Iran’s Fateh-110s, a precision guided, solid-fuel, short range ground-to-ground missile that is believed to be based off China’s DF-11A missile.The Fateh-110 was first tested in 2002 and is now in its fourth generation.
Interestingly, the Fateh-110 is also the basis for Iran’s most potent anti-ship ballistic missile, Khalij Fars (Persian Gulf). According to Iranian media outlets, “the supersonic projectile, which carries a 650-kilogram warhead, is immune to interception and features high-precision systems.”
The anti-ship variant of the missile was first tested in early 2011, and coincided with Iran announcing the completion of a long-range, passive radar covering a 1,100km-radius. Later that year Iran announced that the missile had entered mass production. In tests since that time Iran has said the missile registered a 100 percent success rate in hitting ship-like platforms positioned in the Persian Gulf.
Iran has long been interested in fielding anti-ship ballistic missiles, having fielded less sophisticated anti-ship missiles based on Chinese designs since at least the early 1990s, according to a 2011 report by the Royal United Services Institute.
Khalij Fars makes a number of improvements on these earlier ASMs, including a longer range, uses solid fuel (which only some of the past ASMs did), and, perhaps most importantly, uses a mid-course inertial guidance (INS) for improved accuracy while in-flight. Still, some naval analysts have doubted its ability to hit non-stationary targets.
Iran has not been bashful about declaring the purpose of the missile— to frustrate the U.S. Navy’s ability to operate close to Iran’s shores in the Persian Gulf. As Iran’s Deputy Defense Minister General, Majid Bokayee explained last month: “We managed to employ the ballistic missiles which had previously been designed and produced for ground-to-ground missions for targeting enemy ships, and then we witnessed the U.S. naval fleets' retreat in the Persian Gulf after the first test on the missile.”
The semi-official Fars News Agency was equally blunt in describing the missile’s purpose as “designed to destroy targets and hostile forces at sea.”
Iran has been slightly less forthcoming in advertising another potential usage of the Khalij Fars— targeting oil tankers in the Persian Gulf in an attempt to shut down shipping in the Strait of Hormuz. Iranian officials have repeatedly threatened to close down the Strait of Hormuz in the past, which it would likely attempt to do by using a combination of anti-ship missiles, naval mines and swarms of small motorboats.
The U.S. Navy has taken a number of actions to prepare for this contingency. Just this week, the U.S. began a 41-nation anti-mining exercise, called International Mine Countermeasure Exercise (IMCMEX), off the shores of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf. According to news reports, “More than 100 divers, 35 ships and 18 unmanned submarines will take part in the drills.”