Iran’s military is continuing to improve its missile capabilities by increasing their range and developing nuclear weapons related expertise, according to a Pentagon report to Congress.
“Iran continues to develop ballistic missiles that range regional adversaries, Israel, and Eastern Europe, including an extended range Shahab-3 and a 2,000-kilometer medium-range missile, the Ashura,” the report said.
In addition to “steady growth” in its missile and rocket arsenal, “Iran has boosted the lethality and effectiveness of existing programs by improving accuracy and developing new submunitions payloads,” the report said. Submunitions are warheads that carry different types of explosives or chemicals.
Echoing earlier intelligence assessments, the report said that Iran could have the technical expertise to flight-test an intercontinental ballistic missile by 2015.
U.S. officials have said Iran’s long-range missile capability is the reason for deploying missile defenses in Europe, although the current administration European Phased Adaptive Approach is focused on countering Iran’s medium- and intermediate-range missiles.
A missile defense system able to stop a future Iranian ICBM is being developed as a variant of the Navy’s ship-based SM-3 interceptor missile.
The report said Iran's missile arsenal is made up mainly of mobile missile launchers that are not based at specific launch locations.
“Short-range ballistic missiles provide Tehran with an effective mobile capability to strike partner forces in the region,” the report said.
Additionally, Iran is developing capabilities for its missiles to defeat missile defenses by equipping short-range ballistic missiles with seekers that enable the missile to identify and maneuver toward ships during flight.
“Iran also has developed medium-range ballistic missiles to target Israel and continues to increase the range, lethality, and accuracy of these systems,” the report said. “Since 2008, Iran has launched multistage space launch vehicles that could serve as a test bed for developing long-range ballistic missile technologies.”
One new development over the past year is Iran’s threat to use naval forces to close the Strait of Hormuz in response to international sanctions and if Iran is attacked.
“We assess with high confidence that during the past three decades Iran has methodically cultivated a network of sponsored terrorist surrogates capable of targeting U.S. and Israeli interests; we suspect this activity continues,” the report said.
On nuclear arms, the Pentagon said Iran continues to build “technological capabilities applicable to nuclear weapons.”
According to the report, Tehran’s missile programs are being driven by perceived threats from Israel, U.S., and allied forces in the Middle East. The goal of the large-scale missile program is for Iran to project power in the region, the report said.
The report is required under congressional legislation and is dated April 2012. Bloomberg News first reported on the findings on Tuesday.
The report said Iran’s strategy is to challenge U.S. influence while seeking to become the dominant power in the Middle East.
Iran also continues to be a major sponsor of international terrorism.
“Diplomacy, economic leverage, and active sponsorship of terrorist and insurgent groups, such as Lebanese Hezbollah, Iraqi Shia groups, and the Taliban, are tools Iran uses to increase its regional power,” the report said. “Iran's principles of military strategy remain deterrence, asymmetrical retaliation, and attrition warfare.”
The Iranian regime has also sought to exploit the Arab Spring movement in 2011, viewing it as a chance to increase regional influence by supporting groups opposed to regimes in power, especially those supportive of the United States.
Iran also has a “multipronged strategy in Iraq” in the aftermath of the U.S. military withdrawal that calls for supporting Iraqi Shiite militants and terrorists such as Kataib Hezbollah, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, and the Promised Day Brigade.
“Iran provides money, weapons, training, and strategic and operational guidance to Shia militias and terrorist groups to protect and preserve Iran's security interests, including threatening the residual U.S. presence,” the report said.
“In addition to providing arms and support, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (lRGC-QF) is responsible for training Iraqi militants and terrorists in Iran, sometimes using Lebanese Hezbollah instructors.”
The Iranians are seeking to influence events in Afghanistan through support for the Hamid Karzai government while simultaneously supporting insurgents.
“Although Tehran's support to the Taliban is inconsistent with their historic enmity, it complements Iran's strategy of backing many groups to maximize its influence while also undermining U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) objectives by fomenting violence,” the report said.
Iran also is backing the Bashar Assad regime in Syria with military goods, communications assistance, and likely military trainers to advise Syrian security forces, the report said.
Conventional force improvements include new ships and submarines, expanded bases on the Gulf of Oman, Persian Gulf, and the Caspian Sea.
Unconventional force support by Iran includes aid to terrorists and militants including Hamas, Lebanese Hezbollah, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Taliban, and Iraqi Shia groups.
Lebanon’s Hezbollah in particular has received increasingly sophisticated weapons from Iran, according to the report, including a wide array of missiles and rockets. The arms “allow Hezbollah to launch weapons from deeper in Lebanon or to strike Israel.”
“We judge that the Iranian military trains Hezbollah and Palestinian extremist groups at camps throughout the region,” the report said.
On nuclear weapons development, the report said: “Iran is developing a range of technical capabilities that could be applied to the production of nuclear weapons if the decision is made to do so.”
“It continues to progress with its uranium enrichment at Natanz and the newly operational Qom Enrichment Facility despite UN Security Council sanctions,” the report said. “The International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA's) November 2011 report on Iran provided extensive evidence of past and possibly ongoing Iranian nuclear weapons-related research and development work.”
As of February, the Natanz underground fuel enrichment plan was producing “3.5 percent low-enriched uranium hexafluoride (LEUF6) with about 8,800 of the 9,150 installed IR-1 centrifuges.”
The Natanz above ground Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant is producing “20 percent low-enriched uranium hexafluoride with one interconnected cascade pair (328 centrifuges).”