Sunday, March 7, 2010

Imagery Shows New North Korean-Derived Simorgh Missile Launch Site in Iran

The following press release from Jane's highlights new imagery showing further development of Iran's Simorgh "Space Launch Vehicle" (SLV) infrastructure.  We all know that a missile capable of putting a reasonably sized satellite into orbit can also deliver a warhead thousands of miles away.  So the Simorgh is likely Iran's first true Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM).

The fact that the missile and the launch site look very similar to North Korean systems indicates that there continues to be intense collaboration between the two regimes.  Since North Korea has already demonstrated a complete nuclear weapon capability (from mining, through enrichment, through physics package development, to several actual detonations), it is likely that they have been working with the Iranians to bring their weapons program up to speed as well.

It is important to note that ICBM's do not have enough "throw weight" to be very useful carrying conventional weapons.  The development of an ICBM indicates the intent to have a nuclear warhead to put on it -- unless you believe that the Simorgh is just a satellite launcher.

A "Simorgh" in Persian folklore is a divine mythological mix of bird, man, lion, and dog.  In one tale, Simorgh provides a path from the Dark World into the Light World.  It is said to be able to purify the land and waters, removing all taints.  It is particularly inimical to snakes.  Ayatollah Khomeini referred to the US as a "wounded snake".  It is still a popular epithet for the US in Iran.

In the top image, which is from the Iranian package announcing the Simorgh missile, I note that the Simorgh is shown as a bird of fire, lofted into space and looking down directly at Israel -- getting ready to "purify" it, I suppose.
Update:  I am reminded that last September, Obama decided not to deploy interceptor missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic.  WSJ reported at that time:
The White House justifies its decision by claiming to have new intelligence showing that Iran's long-range missile capabilities are not as advanced as previously believed.... [But] it's also hard to square the intelligence community's sanguine assessment with Iran's successful launch of the solid-fuel Sejil missile in May. With an estimated range of 1,560 miles, the Sejil could deliver a one-ton payload as far as Warsaw.
And now we have the announcement of the Simorgh, with a likely range of twice that.

By the way, the new launch site is at 35.2584 N, 53.9547 E, if you want to view it in Google Earth/Maps.

The Farsi writing says, "Satellite Carrier Simorgh"


[Note: None of the images below were in the original press release.  I have added them to provide some additional background.]

Imagery of Construction of New Launch Site in Iran
Saturday, 6 March 2010, 12:36 pm
Press Release: IHS Inc.

IHS Jane’s Analyses Satellite Imagery of Construction of New Launch Site in Iran

LONDON (5 March 2010) Through the use of commercial satellite imagery from DigitalGlobe and GeoEye, IHS Jane’s has revealed that a new launch pad is being constructed at Iran’s Semnan space centre that could ultimately launch Tehran’s next-generation Simorgh rocket.

DigitalGlobe WorldView-2 satellite image from
Ball Aerospace built WorldView-2
Click image for full-size version

Jane’s Defence Weekly, 4 March 2010, reported that Iran unveiled the Simorgh space-launch vehicle (SLV) on 3 February, but as of March 2010 has not publicly revealed the location of the rocket’s launch complex. However, IHS Jane’s has observed a new site four kilometres northeast of Iran’s existing launch facility at Semnan on a WorldView-2 satellite image dated 6 February 2010. It contains a gantry tower, which is 13 metres wide, approximately18 – 20 metres tall and has a cliff-side flame bucket nearly as high as the tower itself. It appears midway towards completion. Although the tower is not yet tall enough to facilitate vertical assembly of the 27-metre Simorgh, the launch pad could easily accommodate Iran’s new rocket if the gantry were to be extended by an additional 10 metres.

In addition to this site, IHS Jane’s has observed another facility two and a half kilometers to the southwest; between the new site and the existing one. Although this facility is in early stages of construction, its heavily secured nature and restricted access indicate it is a primary element of the newly constructed complex.

Using satellite imagery from the Ikonos and WorldView-2 satellites taken on 11 February 2010, IHS Jane’s has identified the Simorgh and Safir-2 rockets displayed during the pro-revolution rallies in Tehran’s Azadi Square. The commercial satellite imagery is coded with geographic metadata that enables IHS Jane’s to garner several accurate measurements of the Simorgh.

Possible configuration of the Simorgh

The development of the Semnan facility and the Simorgh SLV both demonstrate the likelihood of collaboration with North Korea in Iran’s missile programme. The platforms seen on the new gantry tower resemble those seen on the gantry tower at North Korea’s new launch pad at Tongchang. A drainage pit 170 metres directly in front of the pad also mirrors one at Pyongyang’s new west-coast launch site. Similarly, the first stage of the Simorgh strongly resembles the North Korean Unha-2, with four clustered engines and nearly the same dimensions.
 Ahmadinejad views Simorgh four-engine cluster (likely North Korean-derived)

IHS Jane’s concludes that given these investments in its missile infrastructure, and despite the United States attempting to garner support for further sanctions against Iran for its nuclear programme, Tehran appears determined to continue developing its missile and rocket capabilities in the foreseeable future.

Further analysis of the Simorgh 3 SLV and the new installation at Semnan can be viewed at and in the April edition of Jane's Missiles and Rockets .

IHS Jane’s is an IHS (NYSE: IHS) company.


More info on the Simorgh from the US Naval Institute:


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