Nuke-Modified Nosecones and Secret Facilities Hang Over Iran
Missile experts analyzing footage of recent Shahab-3 test launches have concluded that Iran has modified the nosecone to accommodate a nuclear warhead. The Telegraph report cites experts noting the triconical design of the new nosecone “to accommodate a nuclear device and this type of warhead is normally found only in nuclear weapons.” An unnamed senior US official said that it was a significant development and that Iran has “been trying to do this for years and now they have succeeded. It is a very disturbing development.”
The curious aspect of the report is the timing. The triconical nosecone did not surface in the most recent test firings of the Shahab-3, Iran’s staple medium range missile. A September 2003 Iranian military parade shows the missile on display with the straight nosecone. Middle East Missile Monitor report from as far back as September 2004 notes the appearance of the triconical nosecone – calling it the Baby Bottle Shihab - as well as other aspects that indicate Russian technological signatures on the Iranians’ steady advances in their missile development, such as the fuel lines ‘over the shoulder’ of the nosecone. From the 2004 report, the author draws a conclusion as to the Russian technical assistance:
Engineers have a tendency to copy their earlier successful design formulae and practice, or - not unlike artists - to advertise their achievements by stamping their personal style on their work. The result is often a “family look”, sometimes functional, sometimes aesthetic (Like the not coincidental resemblance of the F-22 and F-35 combat aircraft). To the present writer, the family looks shared by the new Shihab and the old Soviet missiles seem to be more than a coincidence. The thumbprint of the SS-9 designers characterizes the new front end the Iranian new missile. In view of the persistent reports on missile technology transfer from Russian to Iran, this should not be too surprising. The photos of the new Shihab may be a validation of Iran ‘s Russian Connection.
From a link provided by the Telegraph, in September 2004, Jane’s Defence Weekly quotes Uzi Rubin, the former director of Israel’s BMDO, on the Shahab-3 advances. He noted the Russian signatures but did not (in the available text) make the direct connection between the new nosecone and nuclear indications.
To be sure, the emergence of the triconical design is not new. However, to what degree is the true significance of its relation to a nuclear capability advancement? And, if this is so, why is it being put into such context now? Is there more recent footage of a new triconical design more advanced than the available 2004 images revealed?
Also from the Telegraph overnight is a report on IAEA suspicions of a secret parallel uranium processing and enrichment network in Iran, intended to ensure the survivability of the Iranian nuclear work after previously disclosed sites are destroyed by an American bombing campaign. This is a significant aspect that warrants a most active intelligence effort.
IAEA officials refer to late-2005 interviews with AQ Khan as “convincing evidence that the Iranians are working on a secret uranium enrichment project that has not been officially declared.” It is believed by the IAEA interviewers that Khan provided “full disclosure of the nuclear dossier he gave the Iranians.”
At issue and in question leading the IAEA to this conclusion are two primary factors today. First is the apparently very revealing interview of AQ Khan, possibly looking to save his own skin, and the many inconsistencies between what Iran has claimed and/or denied and what Khan disclosed about what his network provided Iran.
Second is the still unresolved question over Iran’s ‘Green Salt Project’ that was discovered yet publicly denied by Iran (as was the whole of its nuclear program for 18 years). Iran had made some backtracking gestures offering some information on the project after immediate denials, but those offers by Iran have apparently since died after the initial gestures. Also to be considered are the warhead designs discovered that Iran first denied outright. Iran then backtracked and said that they had them but never asked for them, suggesting that it was a marketing effort by Khan to gain more business.
The question of a secret Iranian parallel program is not new. That the IAEA is apparently now openly suggesting its existence, however, is new.
What these two developments serve to further expose is the clandestine nature of the Iranian program, despite their repeated denials. To that end, as very specific details are exposed, one by one and over time, the Iranian response is consistent and largely generic: “These are lies. We only pursue peaceful nuclear power.” On a regular basis, specifics are combated largely with generalities.
It is Iran’s undeniable presence at the epicenter of international terrorism that is at the center of the conflict and the heart of the dangerous threat. The concern is less the nuclear weapons than the nature of the regime pursuing them.
The race to develop nuclear weapons by both India and Pakistan, while troubling, did not cause the level of concern caused currently by Iran.