Skeptics torpedo Iran's weapons
claims By Breffni O'Rourke
Western defense analysts are skeptical of
Iranian claims to have developed new high-tech
weapons equal to or even surpassing in capability
those available to the world's leading military
war games that started in the Persian Gulf last
week, the Iranians say they have
tested an underwater sonar-evading missile capable of going 375km/h
- three or four times as fast as conventional
torpedoes. They also claim to have test-fired a
multiple-warhead missile that can almost entirely
Military analysts say they
don't have enough hard information to
form a definitive view of
the latest Iranian claims, but say they cannot be
rejected out of hand.
independent military consultant Alexandra
Ashbourne said she would be "really surprised" if
the Iranian claims are true. She singles out the
rocket with alleged radar-avoiding qualities,
called the Fajr-3.
"That's the kind of
thing we [in the West] are having trouble with,
and whether they have this incredible ... I mean
we know they have some capabilities, but whether
their capabilities are really as advanced as they
would like us to believe is another matter," she
The ability of a rocket to avoid
appearing on radar screens depends largely on the
materials it's made of, she said. Modern carbon
fiber or Kevlar materials are like hard and
heat-resistant plastic, and reflect far fewer
radar waves than metal does. Hence they leave a
smaller radar "footprint".
The science of
trying to make missiles, airplanes and even boats
"invisible" to radar is called stealth technology.
But Ashbourne said only partial invisibility of
missiles has been achieved, as far as is known.
"You can achieve stealth up to a point
comparatively easily in this day and age, but
according to the [Iranian] claims I have heard,
they appear to be at Western or above-Western
capability, and I would be really surprised [if
this is true]," she said.
the technology? Referring to the
underwater missile, called the Hoot or Whale,
Iranian Islamic Revolution Guards Corps General
Ali Fadavi told state television that no vessel
can escape from this missile because of its speed.
Only Russia possesses an underwater rocket
with such speed, he said, referring to the Shkval,
which covers 100 meters per second and has a range
of 6.9 kilometers. It's not known if the Hoot is
based on the Shkval, or whether it is
Naval security analyst
Jason Alderwick, of the International Institute
for Security Studies in London, has studied video
footage of the underwater missile released by the
Iranian government, and is skeptical. "Certainly
they seem to have undertaken some form of test, of
some 'missilized' underwater projectile, but to go
so far as to claim it is a credible, fully
operational underwater missile I think is
overstating [the matter] considerably," he said.
Alderwick pointed out
that the best conventional torpedoes have a speed
of about 110km/h, and that to get them to run at
three or four times that speed through rocket
power is no easy matter.
significant problems in maneuvering the missile;
the noise it would make it obvious as well; it is
not very stealthy; there are really a plethora of
issues that create problems when you are trying to
develop high-speed underwater torpedoes," he said.
Another "massive problem" is
range, Alderwick added. Pushing a rocket at high
speed through a dense substance such as water means
a high consumption of fuel. Russia's Shkval has
a range of nearly 7km. There is no word on
the Hoot's range, but assuming it is similar to
the Shkval, this means such a rocket is only
useful when opposing ships are at close quarters.
Alderwick pointed out two other weak
points: the launching vessels are very vulnerable
to air attack, for instance by helicopter
gunships. Second, if the missile is to be used
against submarines, as Iranian officials suggest,
then it needs to be supported by a full
anti-submarine warfare capability; the missile by
itself is only a single part of the system.
Iran has promised further revelations of
new weapons in the days ahead.