Iran has improved the accuracy of its supersonic anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM), the Khalij-e Fars (Persian Gulf), considerably, an Iranian military official said earlier this week.
As previously reported, the Khalij-e Fars is a solid-fuel ASBM with a range of 300 km when carrying a 650-kg payload. Iranian officials have depicted it as a way to deny extra-regional navies—read the U.S. Navy— the ability to operate close to Iranian shores, including in the Strait of Hormuz.
In remarks to Iranian media outlets, Brigadier General Amir-Ali Hajizadeh, Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC) Aerospace Division, said that Iran’s “defense experts” had increased the precision of the Khalij-e Fars from 30 meters to 8.5 meters.
Hajizadeh claimed that the improvements had been made at the insistence of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The Brigadier General said the IRGC had been thrilled when the second test of the missile hit a moving vessel with a 30 meter precision rate. However, Hajizadeh said, “When we explained the achievement to the Supreme Leader, His Excellency voiced pleasure in the increased precision of the missile, but demanded us to increase its precision capability to less than 10-15 meters [sic].”
"Less than 6 months later, our experts improved the precision capability of this missile to less than 8.5m.”
It was unclear on what basis Hajizadeh was making his assessment that the ASBM’s accuracy had improved. Iran first tested the Khalij-e Fars in 2011 and, according to Iranian media outlets, carried out the second test in July 2012. The 6-month timeframe suggests that the accomplishment was achieved in December or January of this year.
It was not clear from the news reports if another test had been carried out after improvements had been made. Iran has a history of declaring advances in its military systems, which are usually difficult to verify or proven to be fabrications.
That being said, according to a new report on Iran’s naval capabilities by the Institute for the Study of War’s Christopher Harmer, Iran carried out five naval drills in December 2012 and January 2013. Additionally, in April 2013 Iran’s deputy defense minister said Iran had tested a new anti-ship ballistic missile without giving details on the missile or timing of the test.
In an interview with The Diplomat, Christopher Harmer wrote by email, “We do not know, in open source, the exact performance specifications of Iranian missiles. This applies equally to ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and anti-ship missiles, of both the ballistic and cruise missile varieties.”
However, Harmer added that, “We have seen a steady increase in the size, payload, range, and accuracy of their missiles. An easy verification of this is the type and range of rockets that Hamas and Hezbollah have been firing at Israel for the last 10 – 15 years.” He also noted that Iran’s ability to domestically produce these missiles had improved greatly in recent years.
Although his claims about accuracy cannot be verified, Brigadier General Hajizadeh did provide a number of interesting details about the ASBM. For example, he told reporters that Major General Hassan Tehrani Moqaddam had been heavily involved in designing and producing the ASBM. IRGC officials have called Moqaddam the pioneer of Iran’s ballistic missile program and some analysts believe he received training for this work in China or North Korea. He was killed in a suspicious blast at an IRGC missile depot in 2011. Iran denied the explosion was the work of external sabotage but other sources reported Israel had orchestrated the attack.
The Fars News Agency report announcing the improved accuracy of Iran’s “carrier killer” also explained the missile in greater detail than many previous reports on it:
“The distinctive feature of the missile lies in its supersonic speed and trajectory. While other missiles mostly traverse at subsonic speeds and in cruise style, the Persian Gulf moves vertically after launch, traverses at supersonic speeds, finds the target through a smart program, locks on the target and hit it. The range of the solid-fuel missile is 300km and it can be fired from triple launchers. The missile could successfully hit a mobile target one-tenth of an aircraft carrier in its early tests.”
In line with previous statements on the Khalij-e Fars, Hajizadeh emphasized its mission of denying extra-regional powers the ability to operate close to Iranian waters.
“And when the Persian Gulf missile came into operation in the IRGC Navy, the countdown started for the trans-regional countries to end the mission of their warships,” Fars News quoted the Hajizadeh as saying.