Green Room

Iranian Silo-Based Missiles: Coming soon to a Bolivarian Republic near You

posted at 9:56 pm on May 16, 2011 by

We knew a missile base was on the way; Die Welt reported on Venezuela’s missile deal with Iran back in November, and numerous Western analysts wrote it up.

Die Welt has a new report this month, however, recounting details like the visit of an Iranian engineering team to Venezuela in February, and the prospective site of the missile complex on the Paraguana peninsula off the northwestern coast.  (English write-up based on the 13 May Die Welt article here.)  I use the expression “missile complex” for a reason.  Details in the Die Welt report indicate that what Iran and Venezuela are planning to construct is not just a base for a missile battery; it’s a complex of underground silos for the Shahab-3 medium-range missile.

The report refers to constructing missile silos 20 meters deep, and the need to provide for fueling the missiles underground, and for the release of toxic gases.  These factors in combination mean that the plan is to deploy missiles in underground silos, from which they will be launched.

Counter-missile tactics for Venezuela’s potential targets – e.g., Colombia (or the US) – will therefore not be solely a matter of the “Scud-hunting” process readers may automatically think of:  reconnaissance aircraft and satellites searching for mobile launchers.  (The Shahab-3 is moved on a “TEL” – transporter-erector-launcher – that is more elaborate than a Scud launcher but allows mobility on a similar principle.)  Mobile Shahab-3s could well be provided to Venezuela, but there will apparently be an underground launch complex as well.  It is likely to be hardened and ingeniously designed.

Iran began using underground silos for the Shahab-3 in 2008, with the first silo complex near the city of Tabriz.  That complex is designed quite simply, however.  Reporting in 2009 revealed a more elaborately constructed – and hardened – complex at the Imam Ali base near Khorramabad.  (The video simulation of the launch silos at Imam Ali is worth checking out.)  Presumably the complex in Venezuela will be built based on the design of the one at Khorramabad, with adjustments for local terrain conditions.

When Iran tested an extended-range Shahab-3 in 2009, US and other defense analysts indicated the missile’s range was up to 2000km, an improvement over the 1600km demonstrated by the baseline Shahab-3.  The difference that makes to the missile base in Venezuela is that using the Shahab-3 ER would put Miami in the threat envelope.

The base is to be jointly operated, according to the original reporting from Die Welt last year.  Iran probably won’t hesitate to deploy newer missiles like the longer-range, solid-fueled Sejjil (in testing since 2008) when they become operational.  The 13 May Die Welt article states that the missile-base agreement provides for Iran to be able to attack her enemies from the base – presumably referring to the US.

Meanwhile, Iran and Venezuela will jointly develop a medium-range missile, apparently for Venezuelan production.

Analysts were quick last fall to allude to 1962 and the Cuban missile crisis.  But we don’t want President Obama negotiating as JFK did in 1962.  JFK was maneuvered into giving up NATO’s new-generation missile deterrent in Turkey as the price of getting Soviet missiles out of Cuba, a reality that was owned up to by mainstream historians only in the 1990s.  In the aftermath of the crisis, moreover, the only thing that left Cuba was the land-based missiles.  The Soviets used the island as a military base, maintaining a listening post and a secretive ground-forces brigade, and bringing in strategic bombers and missile-equipped submarines, for the next 30 years.

It will not be a good outcome for Iran to acquire a bargaining chip, with a missile base in Venezuela, and use it to extort the US as the price of “removing the missiles” from it.  That prospect is preventable now, without quarantines, standoffs, and brinkmanship.  It would take some serious regional arm-twisting, but that’s what “smart power” is for.

Once the missiles are in Venezuela, however, the probability is high that we would have no way of verifying compliance with any agreement on their removal – even one disadvantageous to us.  This problem, if not headed off at the pass now, will only get bigger.

Missle complex location

  J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at The Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, The Weekly Standard online, and her own blog, The Optimistic Conservative.

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If they’re building an underground silo complex, I doubt it’s intended as a bargaining chip. It’s the same strategic intent the Iranians have for theirs, i.e., regime survival. Invading Venezuela would be problematic if they could retaliate by launching missiles at the U.S. The time to deal with the threat would be while the complex is under construction. But we’ve seen with Iran that there’s nothing anyone will do lest it seem preemptive and provoke war. In the end, Venezuela’s people have to see themselves held hostage to a crazy regime and worse, the strategic designs of the Iranians. It’s like the Soviet Union using their client state, Cuba. Now it’s Iran using their client state, Venezuela.

NNtrancer on May 16, 2011 at 11:16 PM

I’m thinking that the “One Trick Pony in Chief” in DC will send in a SEAL team. And from reports circulating the web, he’ll allow someone to do it by proxy in order not to be any more involved than on any other National Security issue.

When all is said and done, I have trouble imagining Chavez and any team of Iranians getting the job done in under 2 more years. Could be wrong. But by then we, hopefully, will have voted in a real leader that makes better Foreign Policy and commands more respect around the globe.

Robert17 on May 17, 2011 at 6:49 AM

You nailed it NNtrancer. They’re getting the idea from Israel, which has the Masada option (and very little else) keeping the barbarians at the gates from bullrushing them. One of the very few things that can keep the USA at bay is long-range NBC weaponry (short-range doesn’t work for that purpose as Saddam found out), and they don’t want to be Iraq 2.

Uncle Sams Nephew on May 17, 2011 at 9:23 AM

But, but, but Venezuela and Iran are … just … small … countries …

I’ve never wanted to wish my time away on this Earth. Even bad times have value to where you should just slow down and appreciate what the world has to offer. But my God, I cannot wait for a chance to vote against this inept bunch of morons in 2012. It can’t come too quickly.

hawkdriver on May 17, 2011 at 11:51 AM

Not sure why the inept bunch are germane here – this is just an announcement. No missile capable of reaching the US will ever be seated in a silo in Venezuela with this or any other President in the White House.

SlimyBill on May 17, 2011 at 11:55 AM

What could possibly be wrong with that?!

easyt65 on May 17, 2011 at 11:57 AM

Slimybill, I wish I had your optimism. At this point I wouldn’t bet against this administration offering them $20 billion to build and arm the silos before adding, “We want to be your biggest ‘customer’.”

easyt65 on May 17, 2011 at 11:58 AM

Agreed, there is optimism in my thinking.

SlimyBill on May 17, 2011 at 12:12 PM

Am I the only one who can’t figure out that map?

Al in St. Lou on May 17, 2011 at 1:18 PM

Which part you having trouble with, Al in St. Lou?

J.E. Dyer on May 17, 2011 at 1:25 PM

Paging John F. Kennedy, please report back to the Whitehouse

georgealbert on May 17, 2011 at 1:38 PM

hawkdriver on May 17, 2011 at 11:51 AM

I hear you, hawkdriver. My theory is that the Apocalypse can’t come yet, because the living room is still a mess and I need to shave off those last few pounds, and get my push-ups back where they ought to be. Maybe that’ll hold us for a while.

J.E. Dyer on May 17, 2011 at 1:47 PM

It’s a map of part of South America. That doesn’t help me figure out which piece of it is going to be used for the underground missile complex.

Al in St. Lou on May 17, 2011 at 1:52 PM

Al in St. Lou — look for the label “Paraguana peninsula” just below “Willemstad” and follow the arrow to the left of it. The promontory coming off the northern Venezuelan coast is the Paraguana peninsula, where the missile complex will be constructed.

J.E. Dyer on May 17, 2011 at 3:04 PM

My idea would be to let them build it for a while. Let them put some resources and effort into it. Then take it down. In this case we do have the luxury of time.

OPSEC on the details, but we have the technology, delivery methods, training and intelligence. We lack will, for now.

NaCly dog on May 17, 2011 at 8:33 PM

J.E. Dyer on May 17, 2011 at 3:04 PM

Thanks for being so helpful, so we are on the same sheet of music.

Keep up the good work here. With your posts, we reduce the chance of strategic surprises. At least from our declared foreign enemies.

NaCly dog on May 17, 2011 at 8:37 PM

Panetta! Save us!

BigAlSouth on May 18, 2011 at 6:05 AM

J.E. Dyer on May 17, 2011 at 3:04 PM

Thanks. Sorry for being so dense :oops:

Al in St. Lou on May 18, 2011 at 1:56 PM

Not to worry, Al in St. Lou. “Dense” has been my middle name for years.

J.E. Dyer on May 18, 2011 at 2:09 PM

Send in B-52 strikes until the area is a giant smoking wasteland and promise repeat performances in the future. Problem solved. This is not something they can smuggle around in the back of a pickup or hide in a cave.

Uncle Sams Nephew on May 19, 2011 at 9:44 AM