GP Insights # 342, 25 April 2020
In the wee hours on April 22, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Aerospace division in Iran launched its first three-stage carrier military satellite, Noor-1 from a launch station in the Shahroud region. The Iran News reported that this satellite had reached 425 kilometres in orbit which is 264 miles above Earth’s surface.
According to the IRGC Aerospace Force Chief Ali Hajizadeh, the combination of liquid and solid hybrid propulsion fuelling system has led to the successful launch of the military satellite. The Supreme leader has felicitated IRGC for the successful launch; the IRGC head, Hossein Salami has called it a “strategic achievement” for the country. Salami has also said that Iran’s intelligence, defence and space capabilities received a boost with the launch.
The US has called the launch as a violation of the UNSC Resolution 2231 by Iran. Israel has condemned the same and has called for “an imposition of additional sanctions on the Iranian regime to deter it from continuing these dangerous and inciting actions.”
What is the background?
From 2009 till present, Iran has indigenously developed and launched satellites like Omid, Payam, Doosti and Zafar-1. While the launch of Omid was considered a success, the subsequent launches of Payam, Doosti and Zafar-1 satellites (a communication satellite) were considered as failures. The launch of Noor-1 after several attempts despite heavy sanctions brings Iran in the group of countries racing to develop its space capabilities.
The launch has raised serious concerns and questions on the capabilities of Iran, while the country struggles to fight the pandemic and the regime prioritizes its national security.
The US and Israel have serious concerns. The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo has called for an evaluation of the launch as it makes it possible for Iran to launch Inter-continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM’s) and nuclear warheads with the same technology in future thereby leading to a violation of the UNSC Resolution 2231 by the country. France has called Iran’s ballistics programme a major concern for regional and international security.
According to Iran, the launch does not violate the resolution, and it has no intention to develop a nuclear weapon. It claims its activities as peaceful and only intends to improve its information and communication technologies.
The commander of IRGC, Hossein Salami, has responded to the US saying that Iran will not compromise on its national security. Iran’s success has brought the much-needed morale boost for the regime to take a leadership position among the big powers to expand its military capabilities.
What does it mean?
First, the satellite launch gives a military breakthrough for Iran. The larger question is: will Iran’s military and “strategic” achievements result in Tehran respecting the promises made to the international community? Iran has confirmed that it has not violated any norms and added that it would move to use its military capabilities for civilian purposes like telecommunication, promoting its reconnaissance and safe communication.
Second, the larger question is: does Iran has the capacity to build a three-stage carrier satellite indigenously, and whether it might use the same technology to develop weapons of mass destruction.
Third, what does the military launch mean for the regional strategic environment in the Middle East? With tensions in Israel, Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and Syria continuing, what does the new military capability of Iran means?
Finally, a note on the impact of sanctions and the lessons for the US on the subject. The launch is a step ahead in showcasing that Iran is immune from the external pressure.