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Iran: Missiles
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > Arms Acquisitions > Missiles


Beginning in the 1990s, Iran’s leaders have cited the expansion of missile capability, based on a combination of domestic and foreign technology, as a high priority of national security. Iran’s desire to acquire missile capability does not derive from a perceived threat from Iraq, but rather from Israel, a regional power that has cited Iran as a threat since 1991. In 2004 Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ali Shamkhani explicitly stated that Israel was the potential target of the Shihab–3 missile, which Iran could mass-produce, he said, very efficiently. Shamkhani also emphasized that his task was not to devise offensive military strategies but to develop “defensive capabilities.” In 2004 and 2005, statements on the purpose of the Shihab–3 by other political and military leaders were similarly ambiguous.

The domestically manufactured Shihab–3, which became fully operational in 2000, can reach Israel. In 2004 Iranian officials claimed that the range of the Shihab–3 missile had been extended to 2,000 kilometers, a substantial improvement over the previous version. The missile’s capability to carry chemical, biological, or nuclear warheads extends its threat value. In the early 2000s, Iran reportedly obtained 20 North Korean liquid-fuel engines to power the Shihab–3, although that number of engines is inadequate for serial production of the rocket. The number of Shihab–3s in Iran’s possession is unknown.

In recent years, with North Korean and Russian assistance Iran has started building and developing its own Scud–B and Scud–C surface-to-surface missiles, whose respective ranges of 300 and 500 kilometers enable them to reach any capital city in the Persian Gulf. In 2006 an estimated 300 such missiles were in Iran’s arsenal. Reportedly, in the 1990s China sold Iran large quantities of missile guidance devices. Shihab–3 missiles test-fired in 2004 are a variation of the North Korean Nodong, whose range is about 1,300 kilometers. Reportedly, a Shihab–4 variant, whose range is estimated at about 2,500 kilometers, was at an early production stage in 2006. A Shihab–5 variant would have a range of about 3,400 kilometers.

Last Updated: January 2008

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Iran was first published in 1987. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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