Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Eye in the Sky

According to the AP, Iran now has its first spy satellite. Officially, the Sina-1 satellite was supposedly designed for peaceful purposes. But only a month after it was launched--and weeks after Iran's president said Israel should be wiped off the map--the head of Tehran's space program said Sina-1 is capable of spying on the Jewish state.

As an intelligence platform, Sina-1's capabilities are modest at best. It has a resolution of about 50 yards, meaning it can't distinguish objects less than 150 feet in diameter. Given its poor resolution, Sina-1 would be of little use in spotting Israeli missile deployments, activity at nuclear facilities, or other key strategic indicators. But the launch confirms Tehran's desire to fully develop its WMD capabilities. As we've pointed out before, it takes more than just the weapons to develop a true WMD employment capability. You also need a suitable delivery platform (in this case, the Shahab-3 family of medium-range missiles, capable of hitting Israel), and access to geospatial information on potential targets, including satellite imagery. Iran already has access to some imagery from foreign platforms, but development of an indigenous system will provide a supplemental source of information, and offers a hedge against the potential loss of external sources.

With technical assistance from other countries (such as Russia, which launched Sina-1 into orbit), Iran should be able to achieve significant improvements in resolution in the coming years. Tehran is a long way from matching Israel's spy satellites (which boast excellent resolution and multi-spectral capabilities), but further upgrades will improve Iran's ability to effectively employ its missiles, tipped with chemical, biological--and eventually--nuclear warheads.

No comments: