Monday, October 18, 2004

Iran to launch first spy satellite by spring

Iran will launch its first spy satellite in March or April 2005, Uzi Rubin, head of the Defense Ministry department responsible for ballistic missile defense, predicted over the weekend.
The launcher will be based on Russian ballistic missiles adapted by expatriate Russian experts, Rubin said. These experts have significantly advanced Iran's ballistic capabilities, he said, among other things, by significantly improving the accuracy of its Shihab-3 missile.

Iran is currently developing three satellites. Two are small, weighing 20 to 60 kg, and are expected to be launched mainly as a test. The third weighs 170 kg and will carry a telescopic camera for espionage purposes. That is the one that Rubin expects to be launched next spring.

Unlike its nuclear program, which is shrouded in secrecy, Iran has been very open about its missile and satellite programs, and Rubin said that Tehran views the satellite launch as a global show of strength. That, he added, ought to worry the West, and especially the United States.

Rubin, who has won two national security prizes for his role in developing the Ofek spy satellite and the Arrow anti-missile missile, bases his belief that Iran is being aided by expatriate Russian experts on photographs that Tehran disseminated of improvements in the Shihab-3. He said the new shape of the missile's cone - the part containing the warheads - is very similar to that found in old Soviet missiles, but different from that of the missiles Russia has produced since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990.

Israeli experts believe that the Shihab's new shape is meant to foil the Arrow. 'We go crazy about Iranian progress in the nuclear field, and forget that the missiles Iran is developing can do us damage even with conventional capabilities,' Rubin said.