Pentagon report says Iran is fielding anti-ship ballistic missiles

Naval Weapons
Jeremy Binnie, London and Daniel Wasserbly, Washington, DC – IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly  08 September 2014

A Khalij Fars is seen in front of a Fateh-110 during the missile delivery ceremony held on 5 March. Source: Iranian Ministry of Defence

Iran‘s Khalij Fars anti-ship ballistic missile (AShBM) – a weapon that could shift the military balance in the Gulf region – is being delivered to operational units, according to the US Department of Defense‘s annual report to Congress on the Islamic Republic’s military capabilities.

“Tehran is quietly fielding increasingly lethal symmetric and asymmetric weapon systems, including more advanced naval mines, small but capable submarines, coastal defence cruise missile batteries, attack craft, and anti-ship ballistic missiles,” the report’s declassified executive summary said.

This is the first corroboration of Iranian claims that the AShBM is in service. US officials declined to comment further on the report, which was submitted to Congress in January.

The Khalij Fars is a version of the Fateh-110 tactical ballistic missile with an electro-optical (EO) seeker that enables it to home in on a ship’s infrared signature in its terminal phase. The Iranian media has reported that the missile has the same 300 km range and 650 kg warhead as the more recent versions of the Fateh-110.

Vice Admiral James Syring, the director of the US Missile Defense Agency, submitted a statement to a Congressional subcommittee in June saying: “This ballistic missile has a range of 300 km, which means it is capable of threatening maritime activity throughout the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz.” Vice Adm Syring confirmed the AShBM had been flight tested, but did not comment on whether it was operational.

The Khalij Fars would be harder to intercept than Iran’s conventional anti-ship missiles due to its significantly higher velocity (said to be Mach 3) and parabolic trajectory.

The missile was first unveiled in February 2011, when Iran released footage apparently showing it hitting a stationary ship. A second test was announced in July 2012, when Iranian television showed footage that appeared to have been filmed by the missile’s seeker as it homed in on a floating platform that was moving.

While the Iranian media has reported since the February 2011 unveiling that the missile was being mass produced, it was not until 5 March 2014 that the Ministry of Defence held a ceremony in which multiple Khalij Fars were officially delivered to the military.

The eight Khalij Fars that featured in the ceremony had the tip of their noses covered by a protective cap, making it impossible to see the EO seeker that distinguishes them from the Fateh-110.

Analysts have previously been sceptical of Iran’s AShBM programme. A paper published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on 14 August said: “Experts feel … Iran has little or no operational capability to use the Khalij Fars … or any ballistic missile or long-range rocket in the anti-ship [role].”

The CSIS report said Iran did not have an effective way to acquire and track over-the-horizon targets so that the missile’s guidance system could be programmed and then updated during flight to ensure its seeker could find the target in its terminal phase.

It nevertheless said: “Iran potentially could alter the regional naval balance if it ever did reach such a level of sophistication in guidance, range, reliability, and operational accuracy.”

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