Iran’s IRGC unveils 'new' rocket: The Thunder 500

The rocket improves upon the fuel consumption, weight and range of similar Iranian rockets and shows off the IRGC's ability to strike at neighboring countries.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps unveils new Thunder 500 rocket, Feb. 2020 (photo credit: FARS NEWS AGENCY)
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps unveils new Thunder 500 rocket, Feb. 2020
(photo credit: FARS NEWS AGENCY)
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has unveiled what it says is a new rocket called the Thunder 500. It has a composite engine and new technologies that will make it lighter and give it a better range, it said.
It is one of many rockets and missiles in the Iranian arsenal that the IRGC likes to boast about to show off Iran’s abilities. Tehran has been trafficking precision-guided munitions to Hezbollah, exporting rocket technology to Houthis in Yemen, firing cruise missiles at Saudi Arabia and has used ballistic missiles against US forces in Iraq.
The IRGC’s rocketry arm is Iran’s main achievement, and the regime must show this off to illustrate that it can build new products while under US sanctions.
Amir-Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the IRGC’s Aerospace Force, has been under a cloud since air defense shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet in early January during Iran’s attack on US forces in Iraq. He recently claimed that Iran can jam US Global Hawk drones and showed off remnants of a US drone downed last June. The message is: The IRGC’s Aerospace Force commander is back, and he has new toys. One of the toys to threaten the region is the Thunder 500.
Video from the event shows two white rockets with fins near the front and at the back, similar to some other designs such as the Fateh series or Zolfaghar rockets. Two men standing in the room give some concept of the size of the rocket. It is about as long as eight people, which would make it around 13 meters long. The Fateh series has a length of around nine meters.
Iran says this rocket has a new generation of propellants for its non-metallic composite body. It is lightweight and uses carbon fiber. It can also withstand more pressure and temperature extremes and can go 200 km. farther than the Fateh series. It uses solid-fuel engines and can go beyond the atmosphere, Iran says.
Tehran wants to make more solid-fuel missiles for ground-to-ground engagements, as well as reduce costs and increase production using new complex methods, reports say. Carbon fiber is interesting because a new process for making it was unveiled at the University of Alabama in 2016 for rocket nozzles. The concept has received funding from the US Army’s Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center.
A social-media account that follows Iranian technology, @AmirIGM, noted that “Fateh’s weight has been previously specific [sic] at 3,320 kg, so Raad 500 [Thunder 500] weights [sic] approximately 1,660 kg. A remarkably low weight for a 500 km. range.” Iran has a whole series of missiles from the Sejil and Shahab-3 with 2,000-km. ranges, to the Fateh series and down to its Fajr missiles with a range of 50 km. The Sejil also uses solid fuel. Iran uses the word Raad for an air-defense system as well as a self-propelled howitzer, making it unclear why they used it for this as well.
The Thunder rocket is getting press attention in Iran as part of the Islamic Republic’s plan to “get stronger to prevent a war,” ISNA news said. IRGC commander Hossein Salami emphasized Iran’s successes in a speech Sunday. Iran seems to believe this new missile can avoid some radar detection due either to its signature or flight path. The advances for this rocket, if they are accurate, are part of Iran’s plan for a new generation of rockets and missiles, according to Fars News.
Fars also put up a video of the rocket being launched. The white rocket flies high up into the air, and the video shows IRGC members giving a tour of the rocket. The videos are also supposed to show off Hajizadeh’s and Salami’s accomplishments. Pro-regime commentators on Twitter are very proud of the new weapon.
Iran’s IRGC has fired rockets at Israel in the last two years from Syria, and Tehran is increasingly sending rocket technology to allies in the region. It has also transferred ballistic missiles to Iraq.