Iran's Missile Forces: Just How Deadly?

Key point: Tehran’s cruise missile programs have benefitted extensively from foreign procurement.

The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) last week released a landmark report analyzing the capabilities of Iran’s military. In light of Iran’s September attacks on the Abqaiq and Khurais oil facilities in eastern Saudi Arabia, the report’s emphasis on Tehran’s expanding cruise missile capabilities has already proven to be prescient.

The DIA’s new report, titled Iran Military Power: Ensuring Regime Survival and Securing Regional Dominance, highlights Tehran’s development of land-attack cruise missiles (LACMs). The report notes that Tehran “has invested heavily in its domestic infrastructure, equipment, and expertise” to develop increasingly capable cruise missiles.

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Tehran’s investment of its limited resources in LACMs is not surprising, given the challenges LACMs create for opposing air defense forces. The DIA notes that LACMs “present a unique threat profile from ballistic missiles because they can fly at low altitude and attack a target from multiple directions.”

This low and unpredictable flight path utilizes ground features for concealment and makes it more difficult to detect and track the cruise missile – essential precursors to intercepting it. The September attacks on Abqaiq and Khurais demonstrated the value of such concealment; Iran reportedly used seven cruise missiles (along with 18 drones) to target the Saudi installations from an unexpected direction.

Significantly, the DIA report’s “information cutoff date” was August – before the September attack. This underscores the speed with which threats are evolving, and the need for redoubled U.S. efforts to understand emerging threats in order to prepare for and offset them.

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