Iran on Wednesday announced that it had obtained technology to build supersonic cruise missiles, according to a report by Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency. The announcement serves as a stark reminder of Iran’s evolving and growing missile arsenal.
In addition to supplying its terrorist proxies with missiles, rockets and drones, Iran is also building the Middle East’s largest missile arsenal on its very own soil. Iran’s stockpile of thousands of missiles enables it to project power and influence, issue threats and further its goal of exporting the Islamic Revolution across the Middle East.
“Today, Iran possesses the largest and most diverse missile arsenal in the Middle East, with thousands of ballistic and cruise missiles,” Gen. Michael Kurilla, commander of U.S. Central Command, warned in March.
Iranian-made suicide drones have already impacted events far from the Middle East, in the Russia-Ukraine war, with the latest wave of “Shahed 131” and “Shahed 136” UAVs launched by Russia at cities in Ukraine on Aug. 6. Russia, which is starting to build Iranian-designed drones on its own soil, has reportedly shown interest in also importing Iranian missiles.
Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, a military entity that runs parallel to the Iranian military, has launched missile barrages at targets outside of Iranian borders on five known occasions in recent years. Targets included Islamic State bases in Syria, a Kurdish opposition group in Iraq, a U.S. military base in Iraq and a structure in northern Iraq that Iran claimed was used by Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency.
Israel is the primary target of Iran’s missile threats, but by no means the exclusive target; Gulf Arab countries are in the crosshairs as well.
As a result, a regional arms race has been brewing between Israel and Iran, while Gulf Arab states are also preparing themselves for the scenario of future Iranian missile attacks, despite recent normalization agreements reached between them and Tehran.
In December 2022, CNN, quoting U.S. intelligence assessments, reported that Saudi Arabia had begun manufacturing ballistic missiles with Chinese assistance, representing the first known instance of missile production on Saudi soil. Riyadh’s missiles are intended as a deterrent against Iran and its radical axis.
Meanwhile, in recent weeks, Iranian authorities plastered Tehran with posters showing Iran’s latest missile, the hypersonic “Fattah,” with the slogan “400 seconds to Tel Aviv” appearing in Persian, Hebrew and Arabic.
“Fattah” was formally unveiled in June, along with an Iranian boast that it travels at 15 times the speed of sound. Both hypersonic and ballistic missiles travel at high speeds, but hypersonic missiles are also highly maneuverable, traveling like a fighter jet does rather than by the predictable, elliptical routes taken by ballistic missiles.
Two weeks after Iran’s announcement, Israel’s Rafael defense company announced that it had developed an interceptor, called “Sky Sonic,” designed to down hypersonic missiles.
According to Rafael, “Sky Sonic” possesses exceptional maneuverability, representing a major technological leap. The interceptor operates above the 20-kilometer (12.5 mile) mark and below the 100-kilometer (62 mile) level, where hypersonic threats are active and where current air defense systems are not.
For other Iranian missile threats—ballistic and cruise—Israel relies on its existing multi-layered air defense system, made up of the “Arrow 3,” which intercepts missile threats in space, the “Arrow 2,” which works in the upper atmosphere, and the intermediate David’s Sling system, which made its first operational debut during the May 2023 escalation with Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
In May, Iran unveiled a liquid-fueled ballistic missile, dubbed “Kheibar,” named after the location of a seventh-century battle between early Islamic forces and inhabitants of a Jewish fortified oasis, resulting in the Jews being overrun.
With a range of 2,000 kilometers (1243 miles) and a 1,500 kilogram (3,300 pound) warhead, the missile—also known as “Khorramshahr 4,” easily threatens Israel. It is equipped with a new Iranian liquid-fuel storage system that can, if Iranian claims are accurate, keep the missile fueled for years, thereby shortening the launch window to a mere 12 minutes, according to a report by Jane’s Defence Weekly. Iran also claims that this missile can correct its course in space.
This missile is likely derived from a North Korean missile known as “BM-10,” which itself is based on an older Soviet submarine-launched ballistic missile.
Iran is continuing, meanwhile, to produce mid-range “Shahab 3” ballistic missiles, with ranges of between 800 to 1,000 kilometers (500 to 620 miles) , and with new variants able to extend ranges to be able to strike Israel from Iran.
Iranian “Emad 1” missiles are also currently under development, with a range of around 2,000 kilometers.
Iran’s arsenal includes the “Sejjil” missile, with a range of some 2,400 kilometers (1,492 miles). The “Sejjil” is a two-stage missile powered by solid fuel, which makes it easier and faster to prepare for launch. The “Zolfaghar” missile is another Iranian solid-propellant, road-mobile weapon, and its range is between 700 to 1400 kilometers (435 to 870 miles) miles, depending on the variant.
The Iranian “Fateh 110” missile is also a solid-fuel ballistic missile, able to carry a 500-kilogram (1102 pound) warhead, with a range of 300 kilometers (186 miles). The missile is in Hezbollah’s inventory in Lebanon, and is GPS-guided.
Iran’s space program, meanwhile, launches satellites into space and continues to act as a cover for the development of future intercontinental Iranian missiles, which can threaten Europe and later, North America.
According to a study published in 2018 by Uzi Rubin, founder and first director of the Israel Missile Defense Organization, “One can distinguish clearly between two families of [Iranian] weapons: A shorter-range family reaching distances of up to 700 km [435 miles] and a longer-range family reaching 1300 to 2000 km. [808 to 1242 miles]”
Rubin said this could indicate that Iran “designs its missiles for two distinct theaters: A far-theater that includes Israel … and a near- theater that encompasses the Gulf States as well as the northern part of Saudi Arabia, including its capital city of Riyadh….”
Iran has also been developing its “Soumar” cruise missile, which travels on a low-altitude trajectory and is highly maneuverable, with a range of some 2,000 kilometers [1243 miles]. According to a number of international media reports, a variant of this missile, known as “Quds 3,” is also in the possession of the Houthis in Yemen, potentially giving them the ability to strike Israel.
Over in Lebanon, Iran’s chief proxy, Hezbollah, has been working to convert unguided “Zilal” rockets into guided missiles similar to the “Fatah 110,” using a conversion kit that is installed on Lebanese territory.
Nasrallah, meanwhile, is emboldened in part because of the vast arsenal of projectiles he has acquired since the end of the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
In assessing the projectile threat to Israel, it is also necessary to combine the Iranian arsenal with Hezbollah’s stockpile of over 200,000 warheads, which includes 65,000 short-range rockets and missiles with a range of 150 to 200 kilometers [93 to 124 miles], 5,000 medium-range and long-range missiles with a range of 300 to 350 kilometers [186 to 217 miles] and beyond, over 2,000 unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as tens of precision-guided missiles. Hezbollah also possesses some 145,000 mortar shells, according to estimates by the Alma Center, a defense research group.