Iran has unveiled a new cruise missile with a range of 1,300 kilometres as it begins to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, a move that will increase concerns in the West about Tehran's ballistic missile programme.
Against a backdrop of US warnings since the Trump administration pulled out of a deal on Iran’s separate nuclear programme in May last year, Tehran has continued to expand its missile programme.
The country says its new Hoveizeh surface-to-surface missile, shown being fired from a mobile launcher in a video shared over the weekend by the defence ministry, can be deployed in a short time period and fly at low altitudes. The projectile is part of the Soumar family of cruise missiles that were added to the country's arsenal in 2015 and the video said it hit a target at a distance of 1,200 km.
Amirali Hajizadeh, head of the Revolutionary Guard aerospace division, said Iran had overcome initial problems in producing jet engines for cruise missiles and could now manufacture a full range of the weapons.
Experts say that Iran has a history of overinflating its capabilities but warn that concerns over Iran’s long-range ballistic missile development are founded.
In recent weeks, the argument between Iran and European nations over Tehran’s missile program has increased. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on January 25 that Paris was ready to impose further sanctions on Iran if no progress was made in talks over their programme.
But Iran then issued conflicting statements initially saying there were no public or secret talks taking place with France or anyone else regarding their missile programme. It later said it simply could not confirm that talks were taking place with Paris.
On Saturday, a senior Revolutionary Guard commander suggested that pressure from Europe to curb missile development could prompt Tehran to expand it beyond current limits. While Iran says it has no plans to increase the range of its missiles – currently claimed to be at around 2,000 km or far enough to hit the very edges of Europe from Iran – the latest statement is seen as a warning that this could change.
"If today the Europeans or others try to plot and pursue Iran's missile disarmament, then we will be forced to resort to a strategic leap," said Brigadier General Hossein Salami, deputy head of the elite Revolutionary Guard, according to the Fars news agency.
In January, Iran tried to launch a satellite into space which it said failed. The launch followed a US warning to Iran against undertaking three planned rocket launches that Washington said would violate a United Nations Security Council resolution.
The resolution, which enshrined Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal, called upon Tehran to refrain for up to eight years from work on ballistic missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons.
Iran says its missile tests are not in violation of the resolution and denies its missiles are capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
Last year, US President Donald Trump quit the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the 2015 deal between the permanent members of the UN security council and Tehran on its nuclear programme, and reimposed tough sanctions that have hit the Iranian economy hard. While US officials admit that Iran has kept to the deal, Mr Trump has blasted the document for being too lenient as it did not also address the country’s ballistic missile programme or stop what Washington sees as regional interference.
After decades of sanctions on Iran, the country has built a large domestic arms industry as it has been unable to import Western-made weapons. While its campaign in Syria, where it fights alongside the regime of President Bashar Al Assad, as well as its provision of high tech systems including drones to groups such as the Houthi rebels in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon show its capabilities, not all developments appear so successful.
In August last year, Iran unveiled what it called its first-ever domestically produced fighter jet dubbed “Kowsar”. Tehran claimed it came with “advanced avionics” and multi-purpose radar, experts expressed scepticism given the similarity between the new jet and old pre-revolution era planes owned by the government.
Experts said that while some of the new aircraft could have been built on the old designs and could have upgraded the electronics systems, the design of the aircraft was clearly not new.