Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Iran Continues to Improve Their Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile Capability

Anytime an article is using a title that says "Iranian Ballistic Missile Scores a Direct Hit on a Target Ship" I am interested. With that said, I'm not sure the anti-ship capability of a missile is being demonstrated well when the target ship is stationary.

Iran demonstrated today a new type of short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) based on the Fatah 110 platform, capable of hitting targets at a range of up to 250-300 km with high precision. During an operational demonstration the missile was fired at a target vessel floating in the Persian Gulf, scoring a direct hit. Accordingly, the new missile was named ‘Persian Gulf (Khalij Fars).

The missile apparently uses mid-course inertial guidance (INS) and an electro-optical homing seeker to achieve terminal attack precision. Previous versions of the Fateh 110 (also designated M-600 in Syrian use) used a tipped nose, while the current model has a rounded nose presumably housing the guidance kit. As the new version demonstrated in this test, the accuracy of the new missile is far better than the 0.3% of the range, attributed for the earlier model of Fateh 110 which relied only on inertial guidance. This type of solid-rocket propelled missile can carry a 450 kg warhead.
Iran’s Fateh 110 is based on the Chinese DF-11A SRBM, and China has a whole bunch of DF-11A SRBMs. A few thoughts.
  • Iranian ballistic missile technology continues to improve. Iran continues to invest in the improvement of their ballistic missile inventory and capability. Iran is exploiting the range and speed of SLBMs for maximum effectiveness. It is unclear what the top speed of a Fateh 110 is when on terminal descent, but point defenses like SeaRAM or CIWS are unlikely to stop this missile.
  • The Fateh 110 is a credible weapon system. The simplicity of the system insures low cost and high lethality. That may also make the missile easier to counter, but the requirement that an enemy must counter an attack by a low cost weapon system is an important indicator that a weapon system is well designed. Iran's shorter range approach to anti-ship ballistic missiles removes a lot of the difficulty China faces with the DF-21D.
  • The old art of saturation attacks is not lost on the Iranians, indeed it can be described as appearing to be the tactic intended in many of their capabilities. Given the limited stores of defensive missiles on ships, no Navy can afford to get caught up in an equal exchange of missile rounds with Iran as their inventory continues to grow. It's basically the old Soviet saturation model, eventually the number of missiles the Soviets would deploy would overwhelm the defense.
As ballistic missiles become more common as strike weapons against ships, the question isn't whether the US will be capable of countering these weapons - our investments to do exactly that are sound. The question is, how many other Navies will be capable of countering these threats? AEGIS is the most tested missile defense system in the world. Where does that leave the rest of the world?

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