Iran's Missiles: Military Strategy

February 17, 2021

Weapon Program: 

  • Missile


Assaf Orion


United States Institute of Peace

In the 1980s and 1990s, Iran acquired Soviet and North Korean missiles and converted them to make its Shahab-1, Shahab-2 and Shahab-3 missiles. Today, Iran produces its own arsenal of ballistic and cruise missiles. How did Iran build up its own domestic missile industry? How has Iran innovated on earlier missile designs?

The origins of Iran's missile technology were Soviet, North Korean and possibly Chinese. This basic technology was then reverse engineered, enhanced and produced domestically. North Korea may have sold some of these designs to Syria, an important partner in Iran's network, which includes rocket and missile factories in Syria.

On ballistic missiles, the ultimate cover for Iran’s intercontinental missiles—including its participation in the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization (APSCO)—is its space program. On cruise missiles and anti-ship missiles, there are several Iranian derivatives of Chinese missiles, such as the C-802 and the C-704. Israel was on the receiving end of an Iranian C-802 launched by Hezbollah in 2006, and in recent years similar weapons were launched by Yemen's Houthis against U.S. and U.A.E. vessels.


Read the rest of the primer at the United States Institute of Peace.