The news that Iran is sending medium range missiles to Russia has Ukraine and the West scrambling for a solution for the possibility of hundreds of Iranian missiles raining down on Ukraine’s cities. There is also speculation that Iran may also send cruise missiles to Russia.
The ballistic cruise missiles that Iran would sell to Russia is their own version of the Kh-55 Granat/AS-15 Kent missiles produced by the USSR in 1987. Iran obtained these missiles from Ukraine in an illegal shipment of 20 missiles that found their way to China and Iran in 1995. In 2013, Iran unveiled the Soumar cruise missile fired from mobile ground launchers. Iran lacks the aircraft and navy to employ them from the air or sea,
The USSR version of the missile could be equipped with either a nuclear or conventional payload and fly 2500 km -3500 km at a cruise altitude of 40-110 meters. It is not supersonic and flies at Mach. 77.
At the time of the sale, it was feared that Iran and China could both reverse engineer these missiles and produce their own version. Fast forward to 2022 and the war in Ukraine and Iran is now providing these missiles to Russia, which has burned through its ready stocks of missiles and has to preserve its own reserve inventory(if it has one).
Will Iranian Missiles Work in the Bitter Cold of a Russian Winter?
It is possible that these Iranian cruise missiles(among others) may not work very well in the cold climate of a Ukrainian winter. Unlike the ideal weather presented in video games and other computer simulations, wars have their seasons in which men and equipment work best and winter is definitely not one of them. We know this from our own experiences with weapons, including missiles.
In 1987, the US Air Force found that microchips installed in our nuclear cruise missiles that ensured their stable flight after launch failed in the sub-zero temps of winter conditions in flight. They were not properly tested by Lockheed and some 1400 nuclear cruise missiles may not have functioned properly if they were slung under B-52s flying long-range strikes into Russian airspace in winter.
While Russia is certainly used to having to deal with very cold winters, as perhaps the coldest country on Earth in terms of its daily average, the technology to winterize the components of the Kh-55 Granat/AS-15 Kent type missiles date back to the late 1980s.
The problems they would have to deal with would include;
Missiles have a maximum and minimum temperature range for launch. In extremely cold weather propellants burn a bit cooler reducing the speed of the missile. The colder, denser air they are flying through also reduces their speed. In cold weather, these missiles have to be calibrated to burn fuel at a higher rate to keep their speed up.
Optical seekers on missiles can be clouded by condensation or ice crystals forming on them and not work properly.
sensors that control the pitch, air speed, and altitude of the missile can also ice over and malfunction after launch.
The tiny solders on microchips on circuit boards inside the missile can form small ring fractures around diodes in temperature extremes and fail to work.
Missiles aboard ships and launched from air aircraft can form ice on their skins at low altitudes and become unstable in flight.
The Iranian copies of these missiles may not include features to ensure their performance in the extremely cold temperatures coming soon to both Ukraine and Russia in winter. Iran did not build these missiles to give to Russia but for use in their own country. While Iran can get very cold in the Northern part of the country because of cold air masses coming down from Russia, the central and southern parts are subtropical in terms of their seasonal temperatures. Iran also expected to use these missiles in the arid and warm Mid-East against enemies like Iraq and Israel which are not snowy and bitterly cold in winter.
I want to include a caveat here. Open source data on Iran’s missile capabilities is spotty, unreliable, and sometimes contradictory. Most of it is informed speculation,(as this is) given the absence of reliable data from Iran or US intelligence sources spying on their test launches. Most of the information seems to be guesses based on theoretical accuracies of the Soviet models much of Iran’s missile program is based on. The tendency(to be on the safe side) will be to overestimate this capability when planning our own responses to it. We might also expect that anything Iran leaks out about its own missiles will be exaggerated as well, as Russia may soon discover.
It is fair to speculate as well as to whether Iran would go to the time and additional expense of making missiles hardened for extremely cold weather when they expected to shoot them only at targets that do not experience that kind of weather.
As for the types of missiles Iran is sending, no one is really sure but they are generally believed to be short-range ballistic missiles of the Fateh-110 Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) and Zolfaghard SRBM types. These are not cruise missiles that come in wooden container boxes but entire missile systems with mobile launchers and operating software presumably written in Farsi, not Russian. To operate them will require Farsi-speaking Russians, or Iranian crews, or their software to be rewritten in Russian along with all their technical manuals and control consoles having the Russian language printed on them. The complexity of the conversion process of finding Farsi-fluent Russians to operate these systems will most likely mean Iranian crews operating them in the immediate future.
It is also fair to speculate as to whether Iran tested these missiles in the snow, ice, and low temperatures of winter to ensure they would operate.
The coverage of this news about Iranian missiles going to Russia is coupled with calls for the US and NATO to supply Ukraine with Patriot missile batteries and even persuade Israel to sell their own Iron Dome system to Ukraine. This forgets that it would take dozens of these systems to protect a country the size of Ukraine, and require lengthy training and a new logistics train to supply and maintain these systems. That will take months.
Ukraine has the means to counter this new threat with systems already at its disposal. It also has an ally(the US) with long experience in hunting down and destroying missile launch platforms to go to for tactical questions.
Send Ukraine ATACMS
Ukraine will need to retask some of its drone sorties to locate and destroy these launchers on the ground, which would also kill the Iranian operators. The US does not currently provide the Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) to Ukraine assessing that HIMARS currently meets the ranging requirements that Ukraine needs, but if these Iranian SRBM missiles begin to appear, the US should begin sending them or better yet do so right away. The reason is simple, the ATACMS has the same range as the Iranian Fateh-100 missile. Ukraine has proven itself much better at locating and bringing Russian missile and artillery batteries under fire than the Russians are, and in a duel would likely take out a lot more Fateh-110 launchers than they would lose in return. The likely effect would be to force the Russians to locate these Iranian launchers well inside Russian territory to limit Ukrainian detection and targeting of them. This would mean a greatly shortened reach for the Fateh-110 trying to hit targets in Ukraine, while Ukraine can move up to the very edge of the border with Russia and still be inside its own territory.
The most effective way for Ukraine to counter this new threat from Iranian missiles is to destroy the launchers on the ground, not shoot them down in flight, which ought to be Plan B in this situation.
Ukraine should ask for the ATACMS right away and the US should grant the request and begin sending them as soon as possible.
There are on this article.
You must become a subscriber or login to view or post comments on this article.