Iran has developed a number of variants to the original Shahab-3 missile. These have been referred to by various intelligence and media sources as the Shahab-3A, Shahab-3B, Shahab-3D, Shahab-3M, Qadr-1, Ghadr-1, and Emad. The Shahab-3 has also been used as the basis for an Iranian space program, and these rockets have been called Kavoshgar-1, IRIS, and Safir.
Ghadr-1 (Shahab-3 Variant) at a Glance
- Originated from
- Possessed by
- Intermediate-range Ballistic Missile (IRBM)
- 15.86 – 16.6 m (Ghadr) 16 – 16.5 m (Emad)
- 1.25 to 1.38 m (Ghadr and Emad)
- Launch weight
- 19,000 kg (Ghadr)
- 750 – 800 kg (Ghadr) 750 kg (Emad)
- Nuclear, chemical, HE, submunitions
- Liquid propellant
- 1,600 – 1,950 km (Ghadr), 1,700 km (Emad)
- Ghadr & Emad – Tested, Shahab 3A & 3B – Operational
- In service
- 2007 (Ghadr), 2015 (Emad)
The lack of reliable information and numerous alternate names have made the separate specifications for the Shahab-3 variants difficult to classify. The existence of variants has been confirmed by photos and test launches of externally modified Shahab-3 missiles, but which project/missile name belongs to each specific modification is less clear.
- Size reduction of rear fins.
- Material replacement of fuselage (aluminum in place of steel) to reduce weight.
- Overall reduction of warhead mass.
- Lengthening of airframe to allow for longer fuel tanks (and additional fuel).
- Replacement of navigation and guidance systems.
- Redesign of the RV/warhead unit, giving the nose cone a “baby bottle” shape that allows for higher re-entry velocity and possibly an air-burst detonation (necessary for EMP).
Known and supposed modifications have led experts to suggest that the newer missiles have a range of 1,500 to 1,800 km.2 Some sources suggest that later versions are capable of reaching 2,500 km.3 Of course, the additional range bears a heavy cost on payload, and most experts place the maximum payload of Shahab-3 variants around 800 kg. Given reentry vehicle (RV) design requirements, an 800 kg payload could be expected to carry a 500 kg warhead. The combination of reduced fuselage weight and increased fuel capacity provides the Shahab-3 variants with about the same launch weight as the original Shahab-3. The increased fuel may increase overall launch weight by as much as 1,000 kg, but the extra ten seconds or so of burn time give the missile a significantly increased range.4
The original Shahab-3 had a separating RV unit that gave the missile a standard, conical nose cone. The Shahab-3 variants employ a modified RV that gives the missiles a baby bottle-shaped nose cone. More exactly, the RV consists of a small cone attached to a cylinder that connects to the body of the missile (the single-stage engine) with metal skirting.
The new design is probably capable of faster re-entry speeds, thus making it more difficult to target with missile defense systems. The changed design may also make it possible for the warhead to detonate high above a target.5 Though an airburst detonation may improve a ballistic missile’s ability to disburse chemical or biological weapons, its most effective use is with a nuclear warhead.
The Shahab-3 missiles that were tested in July 2002, August 2002, and July 2003 may have been Shahab-3 variants. Since that time, Shahab-3 variants have been tested in August 2004, September 2004, October 2004, January 2006, March 2006 (possible), May 2006, and November 2006.6 It is believed that the earliest Shahab-3 variants reached operational status in 2007. The Iranian space program, which appears to use Shahab-3 technology, tested rockets in February 2007 (probably a failure), February 2008, and August 2008. In February 2009, Iran successfully placed a satellite in space aboard the Safir-1. Though the space program represents significant advances in the Iranian program, the rocket used in the 2009 launch is not capable of delivering a warhead at ICBM range (unlike the Russian rocket used to put Sputnik in space).7
The modifications made to the Shahab-3 represent fairly significant developments for the Iranian missile program. Whereas earlier Iranian missile developments could usually be traced to foreign sources, the modifications to the Shahab-3 appear to be domestic technologies. In the mid-1990s, Iran was building modified ‘Scud’ missiles with foreign assistance; in 2009, Iran successfully launched a satellite on a domestically-built rocket.
Two particular variants are important to note.
The Ghadr-1 is a medium-range ballistic missile that seems to be an improved variant of the Shahab-3A, also referred to as the Ghadr-101 and the Ghadr-110. Speculation surrounded the development of the Ghadr, with some believing it was the same missile as the Shahab-4. Eventually, the higher maneuverability and shorter launch times provided sufficient evidence the Ghadr was a distinct missile.8 In 2004, some speculated that the Ghadr had a liquid-fuel first stage and a solid-fuel second stage. 9 In December of 2004 the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) claimed ongoing research and ground testing of the Ghadr-1. In March 2006, the same group claimed that Iran had ramped up its development of the Ghadr-1, allegedly 70 percent complete at the time. The NCRI added that the new missile was expected to be entirely complete by 2007.
Teheran unveiled the Ghadr missile in 2007.10 On November 21, 2015 it appears that Iran tested the Ghadr-1.11 According to Jane’s Strategic Weapon Systems, the Ghadr has a range of 1,950 km.12 The length is thought to be 15.86 m, with a launch weight of about 19,000 kg. More recent estimates suggest the missile is a bit longer at 16.6 m, about a meter longer than the Shahab-3.13 This is the result of stretching the fuel and oxidizer tanks to create more thrust, but also increasing the mass of the missile. To reduce the weight of the missile, Iran upgraded the airframe to use an aluminum alloy. The combination of these factors led analysts to conclude the practical range of the missile is likely closer to 1,600 km.14
The most distinguishable feature of the Ghadr compared to the older Shahab-3 is its conic nosecone with a ‘baby bottle’ cylindrical shape. This adjustment likely reduced the volume of the payload the missile could carry by about 20 percent and the Ghadr likely carries a 750 kg warhead compared to the 1,000 kg warhead designed for the Shahab-3.15 This denser warhead also increases the speed of its reentry vehicle, making missile defense intercepts more difficult.
A December 2008 report estimated a CEP of 300 m for the Ghadr-1, which has been echoed by more recent analysis.16 More recent reports suggest Iran achieved this accuracy by equipping the Ghadr with a strap-down guidance package.17 If reports regarding the Ghadr-1 accuracy are correct, then it would be a significant improvement of the Shahab-3 (2,500 m CEP). Reports also indicate the possibility that Ghadr could be designed to carry a nuclear payload. This possibility is raised with uncertainty as the Ghadr appears to be comparable to the Shahab system, whose apparent goal is to obtain such a payload.18
On October 11, 2015 Iran announced it had tested a new “long-range” missile called the Emad. The Iranian Defence Minister, Hossein Dehghan, stated that it is the first Iranian missile that can be controlled and guided until it hits its target. As it does with its other weapons, Iranian officials insist that the Emad is only a conventional weapon, and that it is not capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Regardless, the test in of itself was considered by the U.S. as a direct violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1929 for being a missile that is “inherently capable of delivering a nuclear weapon.”19
Analysis of the Emad points out that it is in fact not an entirely new missile, but rather it is a re-entry vehicle (RV) fitted for placement on top of a Shahab-3 or Ghadr rocket. The design and alterations to this finned RV give it increased stability, high maneuverability, and in turn a higher degree of accuracy. Jane’s reports that the Emad RV has a greater volume than previous RV’s allowing it to potentially carry heavier payloads.20 However, a detailed report on Iran’s ballistic missile programs produced by CSIS cites that the Emad has a 1,700 km range, 500 m accuracy, and a 750 kg payload capacity.21 Given its range of 1,700 km (which other reports concur with), the Emad does not qualify for a “long-range” classification, such as an IRBM or ICBM, that Dehghan might have sought. It still remains classified as an MRBM. Additionally, this payload capacity would be just under the Ghadr missile specifications (when it’s not equipped with an Emad RV), insinuating that maybe it is not as voluminous as originally thought. Having these differing reports on dimensions is not new to Iranian missiles. It’s rather common, and only makes it increasingly more difficult to draw accurate conclusions about their weapons.
In January 2021, Iran claimed to have hit a naval target in the Indian Ocean over 1,800 km away using an antiship Emad missile variant during its Great Prophet 15 exercises. Iran fired multiple missiles during the exercise, including the Sejjil and Ghadr, and according to reports, multiple missiles splashed into the ocean about 160 km away from a U.S. aircraft carrier.22 Tehran’s ability to develop a long-range antiship missile still requires some skepticism though, as the reentry steering required to hit a mobile target at its proclaimed range is quite difficult.
- Iran’s Ballistic Missile Capabilities: A Net Assessment, an IISS Strategic Dossier, The International Institute for Strategic Studies, (East Sussex: Hastings Print, May 2010) 24-26.
- Jane’s Strategic Weapons Systems, Issue 50, ed. Duncan Lennox, (Surrey: Jane’s Information Group, January 2009), 78.
- Ibid, 45.
- Jane’s, 78-79.
- Iran’s Ballistic Missile Capabilities, 26.
- Cf. “Top Secret Ghadr Missile Project,” Iran Watch.org, December 3, 2004, http://www.iranwatch.org/privateviews/NCRI/perspex-ncri-missiles-120304.htmwith Duncan Lennox, ed., Jane’s Strategic Weapons Systems 46 (Surrey: Jane’s Information Group, January 2007), 71-73. Hughes, March 13, 2006; Richardson, January 1, 2005. Iran Watch.org, 3 December 2004.
- Robin Hughes, “Iranian Resistance Group Alleges Tehran Is Developing New Medium-Range Ballistic Missile,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, March 13, 2006; Doug Richardson, “Iran Is Developing an IRBM, Claims Resistance Group,” Jane’s Missiles and Rockets, January 1, 2005; “Iran Working on Secret Missile Programs: Opposition Group,” Agence France Presse, December 2, 2004.
- The International Institute for Strategic Studies, Open-Source Analysis of Iran’s Missile and UAV Capabilities and Proliferation (East Sussex: Hastings Print, April 2021), 12.
- Jeremy Binnie, “Another Iranian Ballistic Missile Test Revealed,” Janes Defence Weekly, December 8 2015.
- Duncan Lennox. “Shahab 3/4 (Ghadr-1).” Jane’s Strategic Weapon Systems (Offensive Weapons). February 2, 2012.
- Open-Source Analysis of Iran’s Missile and UAV Capabilities and Proliferation, IISS, April 2021, 12.
- Duncan Lennox. “Shahab 3/4 (Ghadr-1).” Jane’s Strategic Weapon Systems (Offensive Weapons). February 2, 2012; Open-Source Analysis of Iran’s Missile and UAV Capabilities and Proliferation, IISS, April 2021, 12.
- Open-Source Analysis of Iran’s Missile and UAV Capabilities and Proliferation, IISS, April 2021, 13.
- Laurent Zecchini, Joëlle Stolz à Vienne, “L’opposition iranienne accuse Téhéran de poursuivre un programme nucléaire secret ; L’Iran aurait franchi une nouvelle étape vers la fabrication d’une bombe atomique,” Le Monde, February 5, 2005,www.lemonde.fr
- Nick Hansen, “Iran steps up space and missile capabilities,” Jane’s Intelligence Review, April 5, 2016
- Neil Gibson, “Iran unveils ‘high presicion’ Emad ballistic missile,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, October 13, 2015
- Anthony Cordesman, Iran’s Rocket and Missile Forces and Strategic Options (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic & International Studies, December 2014), 97, PDF
- Tyler Rogoway, “Iran’s Missiles Landing Within 100 Miles Of A U.S. Carrier Is Provocative But Not Much Else,” The Drive, January 17, 2021, https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/38773/irans-missiles-landing-within-100-miles-of-a-u-s-carrier-group-is-provocative-but-not-much-else.