Iran has built a new rocket launch site that is likely to be used to test ballistic missiles, leaving two other sites free to handle satellite launches, analysts at IHS Jane¹s Military and Security Assessments Center reported It is likely the Iranians already have a solid-fuel missile that can reach Israel, "yet they are building a major new missile test facility that would indicate they are working on a larger missile, presumably an ICBM," Jeremy Binnie, IHS Jane's Middle East editor with Jane's Defence Weekly, told The Jerusalem Post.
"There are two possible reasons for this: They want a weapon that can reach the United States or they need a bigger missile to carry the nuclear weapons they are suspected of developing because the bomb design they are working with is too large for their existing Sejjils and Shahabs," he said.
The question the new site raises, if it is in fact a missile testing facility as IHS Jane¹s suspects, said Binnie, is what kind of weapon would be tested there.
Asked about how well protected the site is, he responded, "In terms of air defenses, the site is on the east side of Iran¹s longer-range SAM concentrations running between Isfahan and Tehran." He added that there were no short-range air defense positions in the area around the site.
Binnie predicted, however, that security would be improved as the site neared completion.
Satellite images of the structure "revealed a previously undisclosed Iranian rocket launching facility near the city of Shahrud in northeastern Iran," according to Matthew Clements, editor at IHS Jane¹s Assessments Center.
Clements told the Post that they could not verify with 100 percent accuracy that the base was meant to test ballistic missiles, however, "the presence of alternative space launch centers, and certain characteristics of the Shahrud site such as the current lack of obvious liquid fueling facilities, have led us to believe that the most likely role for the site is to test ballistic missiles, rather than to launch space launch vehicles." Tehran was expanding at least two of its facilities that have satellite launching and mid-range missile capabilities, and possible government plans for a third site "seems excessive even for the Islamic Republic's ambitious space program," IHS Jane¹s said.
Construction at the new site, 40 km. southeast of Shahrud, began between May and September 2010, around the same time that expansion quickened at the existing Semnan facility.
The facility has a launch pad and an underground facility connected to the site, according to the report, which also said that the latest imagery, from July 6, showed "that this is only the first phase of a significantly more ambitious construction plan, and that a number of new facilities will be constructed to support research, development, test and evaluation activities." Solid fuel rockets are quicker to deploy than liquid fuel ones, Shashank Joshi, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, was quoted by The Telegraph newspaper as saying.
"If you look at why their missile program has been so slow, one reason is their difficulties with solid fuel. A testing site which helps in that regard is concerning. Testing is critical. You don¹t improve missiles until you test them," Joshi said.
Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.