Sunday, January 21, 2007

Iran's Latest War Games

Those worthy stenographers at the Associated Press have issued a dispatch on Iran's latest war games, proving (a) reporters at the wire service's Tehran bureau know next-to-nothing about Iranian military capabilities, and (b) they take any statement or claim from Ministry of Defense at face value. Whatever the case, most readers wind up with a distorted view of Tehran's military capabilities.

According to the AP, Iran's Revolutionary Guards began a three-day missile drill on Sunday, in a desert region about 60 NM northwest of Tehran. That's an accurate statement, but it ignores the proper context for the event. The Revolutionary Guards (who control Iran's ballistic missile and battlefield rocket forces) typically hold an exercise in the first quarter of the calendar year, typically in February or March. This particular exercise may be coming a bit early (perhaps in response to the planned deployment of a second U.S. carrier group to the Persian Gulf), but whatever the reason, the missile drill has been in the works for several months. Planners need that time to coordinate the movement of crews, missiles, launch vehicles, and support equipment, among other items.

And, if the Iranians follow historical norms, we may see other exercises over the next couple of months, involving short-range SCUD and medium-range Shahab-3 missiles. Those drills would be more significant that the current exercise, since they would test systems with greater range and accuracy than the Zelzal and Fajr-5 rockets now in the field. The much-hyped Fajr-5 is actually a short-range (50 NM) battlefield rocket; the Zelzal has a range of roughly 110 NM. Both have relatively unsophisticated guidance systems, making them even less accurate than the notoriously-inaccurate SCUD, which has a circular probability of error (CEP) of 1-3 NM at max range. In other words, the Zelzal and Fajr-5 would only be useful against large, area targets (port facilities, airfields, logistical bases), and only if they're equipped with a chemical or biological warhead (it's doubtful Iran will have a nuclear warhead small enough for their battlefield rockets in the forseeable future).

Additionally, as we've noted before, the supposedly "advanced" technical features of the Fajr-5 have been grossly overstated. Those "radar-evading" abilities? Apparently, nothing more that a coat of radar-absorbent paint (that likely evaporated during flight). And it's multiple warheads? Just ordinary cluster warheads, available--and used--for years on a variety of ballistic missiles and rockets. So much for those technical breakthroughs. Iran is probably a decade away (or longer) from a true multiple, independent reentry vehicle (MIRV) capability, but you wouldn't know that by reading the AP's reporting.

In fairness, it is a bit unreasonable to expect the AP to staff all its bureaus with military experts. But in a country like Iran--which is trying to develop WMD and improve its long-range delivery platforms--you would think the wire service would demand a bit more detail and perspective in its coverage. Unfortunately, the bulk of the AP's reporting on the Iranian military is little more than retransmission of Revolutionary Guards press releases, creating an unrealistic picture of Tehran's military capabilities. It's fortunate that our military forces don't rely on the AP for updated assessments of the Iranian military arsenal.


Mike H. said...

How much has the AP's takeover value gone down since the GWOT started.

Papa Ray said...

"It's fortunate that our military forces don't rely on the AP for updated assessments of Iran's military arsenal."

Yea, well maybe. I'm just as worried what our military is using for their assessments.

Our Intel depts seem to have been a day late and a dollar short for the last few years.

I wouldn't bet much that they have improved much lately.

Papa Ray
West Texas

Roy Lofquist said...

CEP is a bit misleading. There is more certainty about azimuth than distance. Thus, the probable strike zone is an ellipse, not a circle.