What missiles did Iran use to attack US bases?

Harry Lye 8 January 2020 (Last Updated January 16th, 2020 16:24)

Iran overnight launched ballistic missiles at two US air bases in Iraq; Al Assad west of Baghdad and another in Irbil. Army Technology takes a look at the missiles used in the attack, and the circumstances surrounding it.

What missiles did Iran use to attack US bases?
Still from footage of the missile launches circulated by media in Iran. Credits: Iranian Press TV.

The attacks originated from Iran and were retaliation for the US Government’s drone strike, which killed the commander of Iran’s revolutionary guard Quds Force General Qasem Soleimani. They marked a diversion from the Iran’s usual retaliation through proxy forces across the region.

The bases, which host international personnel including those from the UK, came under fire. Army Technology understands that is still unclear whether any US personnel were killed in the attack, and the Department of Defense (DoD) said that an assessment of the damage was underway.

The UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) confirmed on Twitter that no UK personnel had been killed in the attack; it had earlier moved non-essential personnel out of Baghdad and said it was “urgently working to establish all the facts on the ground”. The MOD earlier ordered the Royal Navy to resume escorts of commercial shipping through the Strait of Hormuz. The UK has also put helicopters and ships in the region on standby, ready to respond to the ongoing crisis.

Iran has one of the largest and most diverse missile arsenals in the Middle East. According to a report from late last year from the US Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), the country leveraged this in the attack, with reports from a range of sources including an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Quds force Telegram channel indicating that the country used Fateh-110, and Qiam-1 missiles in the attack.

Footage of the missile launches. Credits: Iranian Press TV.

Two missiles, two bases

“Iran has an extensive missile development programme, and the size and sophistication of its missile force continues to grow despite decades of counter-proliferation efforts aimed at curbing its advancement,” the report from the DIA reads.

This missile focus has allowed Iran to make up for its lack of an advanced air force with the country still operating ageing fighter jets.

In this instance the missiles used in the attack – dubbed “Martyr Soleimani” in reference to the late general – are believed to have a range of between 300km to 750km, allowing them to target the whole of Iraq, along with other neighbouring countries Syria, some of Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan to the east.

The Fateh-110 Short Range Ballistic Missile (SRBM) has been described as one of the country’s more accurate missile systems, is a road-mobile solid propellant system that was previously used by the country in an attack on a ski resort in Israel, which was intercepted by the country’s Iron-Dome missile defence system.

The Fateh-110 missile is primarily operated by Iran by has also seen service in Syria and has reportedly been exported to Hezbollah in Lebanon. In 2014 Iran confirmed that it had supplied the organisation with the missiles, giving the group the ability to strike targets in Israel.

The second system that is reported to have been used in the attack is the longer-range Qiam-1 missile, with Iranian press reporting that the missile has a range of 800km – the US DIA estimates its range to be at least 750km.

Like the Fateh-110, the Qiam-1 is road-mobile, but can also be launched from a silo. In the past, Iran has supplied the weapon to Houthis in Yemen, according to the US DIA. The missile is based on the technology behind the Scud missile. According to Iranian media, it uses a fin-less design to reduce its radar cross-section and increase the number of potential launch systems for the missile.

A number of the missiles are understood to have missed their targets, and at least one was intercepted by air defence systems that cover the bases. In Irbil, fuel tank sections from the Qiam system were reportedly found in the area.

Infographic detailing a range of Iranian missile systems, including the two reported to have been used in last nights missile attack.Credits: US Defence Intelligence Agency.

What happens now?

While damage assessments are ongoing, the question remains as to what will now happen in response to the missile attacks. Cranfield University Senior Lecturer in International Security Dr Anicée Van Engeland commented on the Iranian missile strikes saying: “The major question is not a legal one but a political one. Is Iran’s retaliation enough to satisfy an extremely angry population?

“Many Iranians find themselves in a dichotomy. They are furious at the US interference and its targeted killings, but at the same time, are deeply worried about the prospect of war.”

Van Engeland explained that the response treads a fine line between proportionality and escalation. It is still yet to become clear whether the US will respond, however US President Donald Trump is due to make a statement today.

Last night Trump said on Twitter: “All is well! Missiles launched from Iran at two military bases located in Iraq. Assessment of casualties & damages taking place now. So far, so good! We have the most powerful and well-equipped military anywhere in the world, by far! I will be making a statement tomorrow morning.”

In the midst of the fallout, Iraqi Prime MinisterAdil Abdul-Mahdi al-Muntafiki confirmed that the country had received notice of the missile attack, while officials from Iraq called for restraint. In a statement, the official spokesperson of the Commander-in-Chief of the Iraqi Armed Forces said: “We have called, and we call on all, to exercise restraint, prevail over the language of reason, adhere to international covenants, respect the Iraqi state, and the decisions of its government, and help it to contain and overcome this serious crisis threatening it, the region, and the world with a devastating, comprehensive war.”

Van Engeland added: “The question still remains as to whether there will be a response from Iran’s paramilitary groups that the State has less control over? This still must be considered a real possibility.

“The missile strikes cannot be considered the end of the matter. Iran has publicly stated it wants US troops out of the region and the achievement of that goal will dominate its regional agenda for the many months and years ahead.”

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