The Complex

Is This Iran's First ICBM Launch Site?

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You're looking at what may be the launch site that Iran is secretly building for its first intercontinental ballistic missiles. And that means Tehran could be inching dangerously close to striking foes from thousands of miles away.

This complex, revealed by Jane's Intelligence Review last night, appears to be Iran's latest space launch facility. However, this site, located about 35-40 kilometers southeast of the town of Shahrud, may be geared toward testing ICBMs instead of rockets meant to loft satellites into orbit.

"Imagery analysis of the Shahrud site suggests it will be a strategic facility used to test ballistic missiles, leaving the other two sites free to handle Iran's ambitious program of satellite launches," Matthew Clements, Editor at IHS Jane's Military and Security Assessments Centre, said in a statement.

How can you tell? Jane's says that July 2013 satellite imagery of the site shows rocket assembly buildings and a launch tower that are significantly smaller than those found at Iran's other space launch facility, near the town of Semnan. This may reflect the fact that the Shahrud facility is built to accommodate smaller, truck-mounted ballistic missiles compared instead of much larger satellite-lifting rockets.

(Remember, ICBMs aren't always launched from silos the way America's Minuteman III missiles are. Iran may well be trying to develop truck-launched ICBMs resembling those found in Russia and China.)

The new site also lacks a liquid-fuel storage facility needed to support the rockets that hoist Iranian satellites into space

Furthermore, the launch pad at Shahrud looks to Jane's like it's been built to support the weight of the larger missile carrying trucks that will lob ballistic missiles skyward.

"One explanation for the different pad sizes is that the one at Shahrud is designed to handle test launches of ballistic missiles fired from transporter-erector launcher (TEL) vehicles rather than [space launch vehicles]," reads the private intelligence firm's report on the site.

All of these signs point to Iran possibly getting ready to start testing a no-kidding intercontinental ballistic missile.

"Iran's claim that its 2,000 km-range, solid-fuel Sejjil missile is already in service after two tests suggests the next stage in the program will be the development of an intercontinental ballistic missile," claims Jane's.

Adding some credence to the theory is the Pentagon's 2012 estimate that Iran will be able to test an ICBM by 2015.

While satellite images of a construction site don't provide anything close to definitive proof that Iran will be testing ICBMs here, Janes' analysis "doesn't seem to be wildly inconsistent with the Intelligence Community's estimates," said Jeffrey Lewis, of the James R. Martin Center for Non-Proliferation Studies tells Killer Apps.

Whether this new site will be used to test ICBMs or less destructive, satellite-launching missiles, one thing is clear, Iran's missile program is advancing steadily.

(Maybe this is the next place you should be watching for a mysterious, massive set of explosions like the 2011 blasts that killed the architect of Iran's missile program, Major General Hassan Moghaddam, at the Alghadir missile base in Bid Ganeh.)

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