What do we know about Iran’s space capabilities?

Iran is building space capabilities that could be a launching pad to developing intercontinental ballistic missiles and has made progress in its efforts to disrupt GPS and communication satellites, according to a new report from the Defense Intelligence Agency.

The “Iran Military Power” report is the latest unclassified publication from the DIA, the organization in charge of providing intelligence on foreign military capabilities to the military and policy makers. This is the third country-specific unclassified report the agency has produced in recent years, following a report on Russia in 2017 and China in early 2019.

According to the most recent report, released Nov. 18, Iran recognizes the strategic value of space and counterspace capabilities. The DIA specifically noted that Iran has made advancements in its attempts to develop satellite jamming tools that can target GPS and communications satellites. Additionally, the DIA’s 2019 “Challenges to Security in Space” released earlier this year notes that Iran may be helping to proliferate jamming equipment worldwide.

The bulk of the report’s space section, however, is devoted to Iran’s space launch vehicle capabilities.

Those space launch vehicles, however, are simple, unreliable, and have had few successful launches. Even when successful, the two Iranian space launch vehicles ― the smaller Safir and larger Simorgh ― are only capable of launching microsatellites into low earth orbit. While the Safir has had several successful launches placing communications and remote sensing satellites in orbit, the Simorgh, which was launched once in in 2017 and once in Jan. 2019, has not successfully placed a satellite in orbit.

But Iran’s space launch vehicles could have another benefit a well.

“Iran’s developments of its space launch vehicle program could also serve as the test bed for the development of intercontinental ballistic missile technologies,” Christian Saunders, the DIA’s senior defense intelligence analyst for Iran, said in a statement.

According to Saunders, Iran has compensated for its lack of a modern air force by developing long range strike capabilities. However, the country lacks intermediate-range and intercontinental ballistic missiles. The boosters and other technologies Iran is building for its space launch vehicles, particularly the Simorgh, are similar to those needed for ICBMs, meaning they could be converted to that purpose if desired. In fact, the space launch vehicles were built as an extension of Iran’s ballistic missile program.

While not noted in this report, the “Challenges to Security in Space” released earlier this year noted that this technology could also be used to develop anti-satellite weapons.

Iran also benefits from its membership in Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization, a China-led collection of nations that share space technology and space situational awareness data. According to the report, Iran has also been working to build its own domestic space situational awareness capabilities.

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