The meaning of Iran’s Fateh-313 cruise missile
Dubai - Iran has unveiled the latest addition to its weapons inventory — the solid-fuelled Fateh-313 cruise missile, which has a 500-kilometre range. The Fateh-313, which was indigenously developed, is said to have passed operational testing and is to be put into production.
Broadcast August 22nd on television to mark the national Defence Industry Day in Iran, the ceremony was attended by Iranian President Hassan Rohani, who declared, “We will buy, sell and develop any weapons we need and we will not ask for permission or abide by any resolution for that.”
The Iranian missile programme, which is controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), has been central to its military strategy since the 1980-8 war with Iraq that followed its revolution in 1979. With sustained investment into developing a growing range of cruise and ballistic missile capabilities, Iran has achieved important strategic gains to make it one of the preeminent military powers in the region.
The unveiling of the Fateh-313 is the latest reminder of how the Iranian missile programme continues to create an increasingly dangerous regional environment. Missiles, such as Fateh-313, with solid fuel propellants offer advantages over liquid-fuelled rockets, such as reduced logistical footprints and preparation times required for launch.
Although solid-fuelled missiles are more sophisticated than liquid-fuelled ones and, while Iran claims the Fateh-313 has both high accuracy and enhanced capabilities to defeat countermeasures, the Fateh-313 in itself does not represent a groundbreaking development.
The Iranian missile inventory already boasts the C-802 (120-km range), C201-W (200-km range) and Raad (400-km range) cruise missiles. Additionally, the Iranian missile inventory includes the Zelzal 1 & 2 (200-km range), Fateh-110-D (250-km range), Shahab-1 (300- km range) and Shahab-2 (500-km range) tactical and short-range ballistic missiles, the Shahab 3 (1,300- km range), Shahab 3A (1500-km range), Shahab 3B (2,000-km range) medium-range ballistic missiles, and the Sejil (2500-km range) intermediate ballistic missile.
With its growing missile inventory, Iran is bolstering its capabilities to engage land targets right across the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as well as naval vessels around the Gulf with increasing precision and reliability — leaving GCC and US air and missile defenders as little as three minutes to react with countermeasures from the point of launch.
The cruise and ballistic missile arsenal being amassed by Iran presents a significant offensive threat though it can be reduced to some extent through countermeasures and military responses.
The MIM-104 Patriot systems operated by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain, as well as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) the UAE has recently stood up represent the best-in-class technology to counter missile threats, such as those posited by Iran.
In April, Saudi Arabia purchased the latest version of the PAC-3 Patriot interceptors in a deal reportedly worth $2 billion and, in late July, submitted a request for an additional 600 Patriots in a deal that could be worth $5 billion. Additionally, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are keen to follow the UAE in acquiring THAAD for protection against ballistic missiles.
Cruise missiles are, however, particularly challenging to counter with reliability, especially low-flying variants using terrain-masking technology that make early detection difficult — and Iran is rapidly moving to acquire and develop these capabilities.
Moreover, the threat of saturated missile attacks — a numbers game where Iran is able to launch more missiles than regional air and missile defences can cope with — is intensifying with the sustained induction of new missile classes into service under the IRGC, as represented by the Fateh-313.
As such, in the emerging context, even the best missile defence systems operated by GCC states can provide only limited protection across the Gulf. Also, the Iranian missile programme will remain more complex and financially draining to counter than it is for Iran to create and sustain. As the Iranian missile programme continues to receive substantial investment from the Iranian leadership, more sophisticated systems will emerge and complicate the security situation and balance of power with Arab Gulf states.
Emerging developments connected with missile proliferation in the region will increasingly emphasise the upgrading of regional counterforce capabilities, prompting the GCC to focus on boosting air power capabilities with long-range stand-off targeting weapons that can neutralise the capability of Iran to launch missiles in a sustained offense. Given the compressed time cycles to react against missile attacks, deterrence achieved through enhanced air power capabilities must be buttressed with a yet to be realised regionally integrated air and missile defence shield.
Only a regionally integrated air and missile defence shield and the supporting early warning network that can deliver a near-real time shared picture can assure the operational capability and readiness required by Gulf Arab states.
The GCC is at work along these lines to respond to the continuing developments of the Iranian missile programme and the threat it poses to regional security.
It will look to international partners, especially the United States, to support its strategy with deeper and intensified cooperation.