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Iran Missile a Big Deal

by christian on December 17, 2009

sajjil2

Our boy John Noonan has a good post over at the Weekly Standard that dissects the threat from the reported Iranian missile test yesterday.

First, the Sajjil-2 is a solid fuel rocket. That’s the type of power source that we use in our own Minuteman III rockets, as solid fuel is stable in flight and requires no preparation time ahead of a launch. Liquid fuel, which powers the Iranian Shahab-3 fleet, is highly corrosive and sloshes around in a rocket’s downstage, destabilizing flight and degrading accuracy. It’s so toxic that the fuel eats away at a missile’s internal tanks, and thus needs to be inserted right before launch. That prep time is important, as it gives us a little extra warning prior to a hostile missile launch, which could be used to kill Iranian birds before they fly. With this new Sajjil-2 system, Iran has the ability to keep their missiles hot and ready for execution, killing any chance of an advanced warning or neutralization actions prior to a launch.

Second concern is that this missile is staged. Our Minuteman III ICBMs are a three stage, solid fuel system that have impressive range and accuracy (particularly impressive considering the fact that the fleet is approaching its 40th anniversary). Iran now has a two stage, solid fuel rocket. When they figure out how to add that third stage to the Sajill-2, they’ll have a delivery system with the legs to reach the east coast of the United States.

I tend to just poo poo these tests as grandstanding with souped up bottle rockets, but Noonan knows the threats better than anyone. Design is one thing, and if the Iranians have solid fueled rockets with multiple stages, that’s pretty advanced. But guidence is clearly another technical hurdle entirely and I’m not sure they’re there yet.

But when you’re not targeting specific silos or point detonations and just an air blast over a city, your control systems don’t need to be that refined, do they?

And Noonan goes on to say that the Sajjil 2 design is specific to a weapon system and doesn’t have the characteristics of a space launch vehicle.

Do I see Israeli F-15s being loaded at Ramat David for a Hanukka strike?

– Christian

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