Report: Sanctions slow Iranian missile program

A huge picture of Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is erected between a Sajjil (R) and Qadr-F (L) missiles, displayed at a square in southern Tehran, on September 26, 2011 to mark the "Sacred Defence Week" that commemorates Iran's bloody eight-year war with Iraq. AFP PHOTO/ATTA KENARE (Photo credit should read ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture of Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is erected between Qadr-F (left) and Sajjil (right) missiles, displayed at a square in southern Tehran, September 26, 2011. The display marked "Sacred Defense Week."

(CBS News) Financial sanctions and oil embargoes imposed upon Iran by the international community are having an effect upon Tehran's ballistic missile program, with experts saying Iran's ability to develop and build missiles capable of striking targets in Western Europe and beyond has been significantly impeded.

An article published by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies states that, although Tehran has continued to operate centrifuges for uranium-enrichment activities, mounting evidence shows sanctions have blocked indigenous efforts to develop and build intercontinental missiles, by cutting off access to components for large solid-propellant rocket motors and key ingredients for propellants.

The IISS states that if sanctions continue, Iran's attempts to develop and deploy long-range missiles could be delayed for at least a decade - or halted altogether.

Iran's missile program grew from its deployment of short-range missiles during the Iran-Iraq War, when Tehran acquired short-range, liquid-fuel Scud missiles from Libya, Syria and North Korea. Efforts to reengineer medium-range Shahab-3 missiles, purchased from North Korea, to boost their range succeeded in increasing distances to between 700 to 1,000 miles, depending upon the weight of the payload. But Iran's inability to improve its Soviet legacy liquid-propellant engines (whose weight limits their range) means it would need to develop solid-fuel rocket engines to deploy long-range weapons.

However, the article's authors say Iran's work on developing a two-stage solid-fueled Sajjil-2 missile appears to have halted, with no successful tests conducted since February 2011. The reasons could be the disruption of Iran's supply chain for materials and needed technology; the discovery of a design flaw (unlikely, given that most of the tests conducted were successes); and explosions at the Bid Ganeh missile facility in November 2011 which killed the head of the missile program and more than a dozen colleagues.

Diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks revealed evidence that Iran has searched worldwide for the ingredients needed to produce solid fuel propellant. The September 2010 interception in Singapore of 302 drums of pure aluminium powder from China - only suitable for use in rocket fuel production - suggests Iran continues to have difficulty getting whatever missiles it might be able to manufacture off the ground.

For more of this article visit the International Institute for Strategic Studies website.

  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at and