Emad, Ghadr (Shahab-3 Variants)

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.

Emad, Ghadr at a Glance

Originated from: Iran
Possessed by: Iran
Class: Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM)
Basing: Road-mobile
Length: 15.86m (Ghadr) 16-16.5m (Emad)
Diameter: 1.25 to 1.38 m (Ghadr and Emad)
Launch weight: 19,000 kg (Ghadr)
Payload: 800 kg (Ghadr) 750 kg (Emad)
Warhead: Nuclear, chemical, HE, submunitions
Propulsion: Liquid first-stage, solid second-stage propellant (Ghadr) Liquid propelled (Emad)
Range: 1,950 km (Ghadr), 1,700 km (Emad)
Status: Ghadr & Emad – Tested, Shahab 3A & 3B – Operational
In service: 2007 (Ghadr), 2015 (Emad)

Iranian Emad ballistic missile. (Wikimedia)

Variant Development

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.

Based upon known tests and photographs, the Shahab-3 has undergone the following modifications:1

  • 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.[Ibid.] Some sources suggest that later versions are capable of reaching 2,500 km.2 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 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 provide 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.3

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 anti-ballistic missile systems. The changed design may also make it possible for the warhead to detonate high above a target.4 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. A nuclear warhead, when detonated high in the atmosphere, creates an EMP that is potentially more devastating than a conventionally employed nuclear warhead.

Some reports have suggested that the newest variants of the Shahab 3 employ solid fuel.5 Such a modification would represent a great improvement to the overall Shahab-3 program and an incredible development in Iranian missile technology. Solid fuel allows missiles to be stored and transported while fully-fueled and ready to launch; thus the missiles can be quickly and easily launched. Less secure launch locations – on the border of Iran and Iraq, for example – also become more feasible as the decreased launch time lessens the time that a launch crew is vulnerable to enemy fire. Since a solid-fuelled missile requires no pre-launch fueling, the size of a launch crew is also greatly reduced, as fuelling vehicles and fire-safety equipment are no longer necessary.

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. The future of the Iranian program, in the Shahab 5 and 6, could extend their missile range into Europe.

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. On November 21, 2015 it appears that Iran tested the Ghadr-1.8 There are mixed reports regarding the new missile. In 2004, it was believed to have a liquid-fuel first stage and a solid-fuel second stage.9 According to Jane’s Strategic Weapon Systems, this would allow it to have a range of 1,950 km. The length is thought to be 15.86 m, with a launch weight of about 19,000 kg. If reports regarding the Ghadr-1 accuracy are correct, then it would be a significant improvement of the Shahab 3 (2,500 m CEP). A December 2008 report noted a CEP of 300 m for the Ghadr-1.10 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.11

A military truck carries a long-range Ghadr-1 missile during an annual military parade which marks Iran's eight-year war with Iraq, in the capital Tehran on September 22, 2009. Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad warned that Iran would confront any attack on the Islamic republic, addressing an army parade which was marred by the reported crash of a military plane. AFP PHOTO/ATTA KENARE (Photo credit should read ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)

The Ghadr-1 is also believed to have a higher maneuverability than the Shahab-3. While some sources believe that it is the same missile as the Shahab-4, the higher maneuverability as well as the 30-minute set-up time provide sufficient evidence to consider this a separate missile.12 Additionally, sources from a 2007 report claim that the Ghadr 1 may have a significantly shorter stated range than originally projected in 2004. It remains classified as an MRBM and is now considered distinct from its shorter range, Shahab-3, and longer range, Shahab-4, counterparts.13 Sources also indicate that the Ghadr-1 is being manufactured entirely in Iran at the top-secret Hemmat Missile Industries Complex.14 An article from December 2007, though, cites interaction between the German Intelligence agencies and Iranian nationals within German borders. The report states that on more than one occasion Iranian nationals have been held in conjunction with the smuggling of “dual use goods.” These items are usually converted for their secondary use, military needs, in Iran after their transit from Germany. Reports indicate that these dual use goods were used in the development of the Ghadr-1 missile system.15

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 2007.16 Reports from October 2007 indicate that Teheran unveiled the Ghadr whose shape was very similar to that of the Shahab-3 MRBM.17


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.”18

Iranian Emad ballistic missile. (Wikimedia)

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.19 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. 20 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.

    1. 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.
    2. Jane’s Strategic Weapons Systems, Issue 50, ed. Duncan Lennox, (Surrey: Jane’s Information Group, January 2009), 78.
    3. Ibid.
    4. Ibid, 45.
    5. Anthony H. Cordesman, “Iranian Weapons of Mass Destruction: Capabilities, Developments, and Strategic Uncertainties,” Center for Strategic & International Studies, 14 October 2008, available athttp://csis.org/files/media/csis/pubs/081015_iran.wmd.pdf
    6. Jane’s, 78-79.
    7. Iran’s Ballistic Missile Capabilities, 26.
    8. Jeremy Binnie, “Another Iranian Ballistic Missile Test Revealed,” Janes Defence Weekly, December 8 2015.
    9. 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.
    10. Duncan Lennox. “Shahab 3/4 (Ghadr-1).” Jane’s Strategic Weapon Systems (Offensive Weapons). February 2, 2012.
    11. 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
    12. Cf. “Top Secret Ghadr Missile Project,” Iran Watch.org, December 3, 2004, available athttp://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.
    13. Hughes, March 13, 2006.
    14. IranWatch.org, December 3, 2004. Accessed on June 6, 2008.
    15. Madeline Chambers, “Iran’s New Weapon to hit Europe- Building Long-Range Missiles,” The Daily Telegraph, Sydney 4 December 2004, http://www.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/
    16. Brian Bender, “Iran Said To Sharpen Nuclear Program Exile Group Contends Better Missile with Long Range Works,” The Boston Globe, December 3, 2004,www.globe.com
    17. “German Report says Iran Secretly procures arms material in Germany,” BBC Monitoring Europe – Political, December 9, 2007, www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/
    18. Nick Hansen, “Iran steps up space and missile capabilities,” Jane’s Intelligence Review, April 5, 2016
    19. Neil Gibson, “Iran unveils ‘high presicion’ Emad ballistic missile,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, October 13, 2015
    20. Anthony Cordesman, Iran’s Rocket and Missile Forces and Strategic Options (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic & International Studies, December 2014), 97, PDF