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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Iran Pushing to Increase Ballistic Missile Range to Cover Europe

Filed under: Iran

Iran Pushing to Increase Ballistic Missile Range to Cover Europe

Newspapers worldwide headlined on January 23, 2022, “Iran Launched Solid-Fuel Satellite Carrier Rocket into Space,” quoting the official IRNA news agency. Within two days, however, the IRNA account was removed. No rocket left the earth, but a significant static solid-fuel engine test was carried out successfully.

Static test of the “Raafe” solid-fuel rocket engine
The “successful” static test of the “Raafe” solid-fuel rocket engine. (Twitter) 1

While negotiations in Vienna on the nuclear issue continue sluggishly without a breakthrough, Iran continues to exert pressure and threaten the negotiating partners. Moreover, Iran is more than just implying that it has other options if no arrangement is reached, including linking the advanced nuclear capabilities it has reached in the past year and its ballistic missiles that could reach Europe.

A conservative Iranian newspaper close to the regime recently reported that a solid-fuel engine tested in Iran could increase Iranian missile range to 5,000 kilometers (3,000 miles), threatening European countries. The newspaper also praised President Raisi’s government, which, unlike its predecessor, exhibits an uncompromising negotiating position with the West, particularly in the realm of developing Iran’s missile capabilities.

Farhighgan headline
“Missile with a range of 5,000 kilometers closer than ever” (Farhighgan newspaper January 15, 2020)

Through the recent engine tests and the launch of satellites at the end of December 2021 – in the midst of nuclear negotiations – Iran has made it clear that it does not intend to compromise on the issue of missile development during the nuclear deal negotiations.

The New Engine, Composite Rocket, and a 5,000 Km. Range

Iran’s Farhikhtegan newspaper reported on January 15, 2022, that Iran aspires to increase its ballistic missile range and that its development of a 5,000-km.-range missile is “closer than ever.”2

The newspaper, which belongs to the Open University (Azad-e-Islami) and is associated with the conservatives of the Iranian regime, quoted recent remarks by Brig.-Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Aerospace Corps. They interpreted his remarks as an indication that Iran plans to increase its range of ballistic missiles.

Liquid-Fuel vs. Solid-Fuel

Two types of rockets
Two types of rockets (CFD Flow Engineering)3

Liquid fuel rockets require storage tanks and pumps to mix fuel and oxidizer prior to launch and during flight. Once fueled, the rocket cannot be transported to another location. The fueling process is relatively dangerous and time-consuming, increasing the likelihood of an enemy detecting the operation. An advantage to liquid fuel is the ability to throttle the thrust or even shut it off.

Solid fuel rockets can be fueled and stored safely prior to launch, and the rocket can be transported by rail or truck. They are launch-ready at any time. Once ignited, solid fuel burn cannot be controlled. There are no tell-tale plumes of liquid fuel venting for minutes or even hours once the fueling begins. Barrages of solid-fueled Fateh missiles have been used by Iran and its proxies in recent years against ISIS, Kurdish, and U.S. targets.4 Israeli missile expert Dr. Uzi Rubin warned that “an Iranian ballistic missile using its two huge solid-propellant stages could probably deliver payloads of 500 kg. or so to ranges of 4000 km. or more – enough to reach all of Europe.”5

Venting of propellants being loaded on a Falcon rocket
Venting of propellants being loaded on a Falcon rocket (NASA)6
Closer view of failed rocket launch, Iran, August 29, 2019
An Iranian space rocket exploded on the launch pad in August 2019, possibly during the fueling process. (Maxar Technologies/NPR)7
General Hajizadeh at the launch of a Revolutionary Guard’s Noor satellite
General Hajizadeh at the launch of a Revolutionary Guard’s Noor satellite on April 22, 2020. (Sepah News)8

Gen. Hajizadeh announced a “successful test” of a new Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV) engine called the “Raafe.”9 Hajizadeh appeared before clerics in Qoms and said that over the past two years, a series of tests had been carried out on a solid-fueled satellite launcher rocket. The commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Aerospace Corps also revealed that the body of the new satellite launcher is of composite design, not metallic.10 The design and removal of liquid fuel pumps lighten the rocket, allowing for longer ranges or larger payloads. Hajizadeh added that Iran’s aviation and missile ability could not be curbed through “assassinations, threats, and sanctions.”11

According to the Farhikhtegan newspaper, the test indicates significant progress in the missile field. The newspaper added that, although Iran has announced that it does not want to build ballistic missiles with a range of more than 2,000 kilometers, the new engine could allow it to pass that range and even approach the 5,000 km. range.

The newspaper recalled 2017 remarks by Gen. Hossein Salami, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, to the Europeans that if they wanted to bring the issue of Iran’s missile capability into the nuclear talks, Tehran could increase its missile range so that the range would cover the distance between Iran and Europe.

The United States considers Iran’s satellite launchers to be a violation of Security Council Resolution 2231, which was approved in July 2015. According to the resolution, Iran was “called upon” not to take any action involving ballistic missiles “designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.”

Iran’s space programs, which were “dormant” under Rouhani, were accelerated as part of the Iranian response to the U.S. exit from the nuclear deal and now also serve as leverage for pressure on the West during the nuclear talks

Static engine test
Farhikhtegan photograph of the static engine tests. The blue flag bears the colors of the Revolutionary Guard Corps

Iran’s Conservatives, the Missile Test, and the Vienna Talks

Farhikhtegan, the conservative newspaper, criticized former President Hassan Rouhani, writing, “While the Rouhani-led government had tried to curtail the country’s missile tests and space drills to prevent any criticism from the West during the Vienna talks, the current government does not want to find favor in the West…. And, in fact, Ibrahim Raisi’s government sees these experiments as a means of pressure on the other side of the talks.”

The newspaper mentioned that the West had already made considerable efforts to bring Iran’s missile and regional activities into the framework of the nuclear talks in Vienna (until the end of Rouhani’s government). However, Tehran, while negotiating to revive the nuclear deal, is working aggressively to remove the issue of missiles from the talks.

Farhikhtegan praised the Raisi government, noting that “while there appears to have been some progress in the nuclear talks, the West has not stopped threatening Iran through escalating sanctions. Therefore, Tehran insists on the core issues to persuade the West to take clearer positions…. Tehran’s strong emphasis on strengthening its military capability shows that as Western pressure intensifies, Iran will expand its military testing, in addition to increasing the scope of its regional campaign.”

On December 30, 2021, Iran launched a liquid-fueled Simorgh space launch vehicle (SLV). However, it appears that the launch failed because its satellites failed to enter into orbit. Following the launch, Iran fended off criticism in the West of the launch, arguing Iran had the right to launch satellites.

The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency found that “the new Simorgh (Safir-2) SLV could be capable of ICBM ranges if configured as a ballistic missile.”12

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