Iran Solidifies Missile Support to the Houthis

November 29, 2022

Publication Type: 

  • Articles and Reports

Weapon Program: 

  • Missile

Related Country: 

  • Yemen


John Krzyzaniak

In September, shortly before the expiration of the U.N.-backed truce in Yemen, the Houthi rebels held a military parade in Sanaa to mark the eighth anniversary of their capturing the city.[1] The next day, Iran’s armed forces staged their own parade in Tehran to commemorate the start of the Iran-Iraq war in 1980.[2] Both parades featured missiles that were billed as new but in fact were not new at all. The Houthis showed off several missile types that were exact copies of existing Iranian ones, while Iran unveiled a missile that the Houthis have previously claimed as their own.

The parades offer two takeaways. First, Iran appears increasingly willing to supply the Houthis with its most advanced missiles and to run greater risks in doing so.[3]

Second, the parades illustrated that the benefits of Iran’s proliferation of weapons to its non-state partners run both ways: arming the Houthis allows Iran to use the conflict in Yemen as a real-world test bed for newer systems that, if they pass muster, may then be adopted by Iran’s own armed forces.

New Houthi Hardware

The Houthis paraded numerous systems that they had never publicly unveiled before, and all are very likely Iranian in origin.[4] Most surprising was the appearance of three kinds of solid-fueled missiles in the parade. The first was the Karar, which appears to be identical to the Iranian Fateh-110 solid-fueled ballistic missile.[5]

Top: The Houthi Karar. Bottom: The Iranian Fateh-110 (image flipped horizontally for better comparison).
The second was the Aasif, whose external features match the Iranian Khalij Fars, an anti-ship version of the Fateh-110 with an electro-optical homing seeker.

Top: The Houthi Aasif. Bottom: The Iranian Khalij Fars (image flipped horizontally for better comparison).

The third was the Hatem, apparently a copy of the Kheibar Shekan, a solid-fueled ballistic missile with a claimed range of 1,450 km. The Kheibar Shekan was first unveiled in Iran earlier in 2022, making it one of the newest missiles in the Iranian arsenal.[6]

Top: The Houthi Hatem. Bottom: The Iranian Kheibar Shekan.

The Houthis also revealed a new liquid-fueled ballistic missile, the Faleq. The group already possesses several versions of modified Iranian-made liquid-fueled Qiam missiles, which they have dubbed Burkan-2H, Burkan-3, and Zulfiqar.[7] The Faleq appears to be an exact copy of what some independent analysts have called the Qiam-2,[8] which is differentiated from the original Qiam by its detachable, finned re-entry vehicle for improved precision.[9] In other words, the Faleq is an upgrade that tracks the latest technology of Iran’s liquid-fueled short-range ballistic missiles. 

Top left: Quds-3. Top right: Saqr. Bottom: Faleq.

Two less surprising missiles in the parade were the Quds-3 land attack cruise missile and the Saqr-1 surface-to-air missile. Both the Quds (designated “351” by the United States) and the Saqr (designated the “358” by the United States) have been captured by Western navies during interdictions of arms shipments bound for Yemen.[10] The Quds-3 appeared identical to earlier variants, the Quds-1 and Quds-2, which have been used in multiple attacks against Saudi civilian targets, including a pair of attacks against Abha international airport in June and August 2019.[11] The Saqr-1 has been seen in Iraq, and a modified version of it has reportedly been used by Iran-backed groups to attack ground targets in Syria, but this was the first time the Houthis had displayed it.[12]

An Evolving Approach?

The parade suggests that Iran may be changing course in its military support for the Houthis in two ways. First, whereas before Iran mostly supplied the Houthis with older, simpler, and cheaper weapons, the appearance of the Faleq and the Hatem suggests Iran is increasingly willing to share its most advanced missile technologies with the non-state group. Prior to the September parade, Iran was not known to have given the Houthis missiles with terminal guidance or maneuverable re-entry vehicles.

Second, the parade points to a potential shift in Iran’s methods of providing weapons to its partners in the region. Until now, Iran has equipped its allies for local production of simpler systems, such as small-diameter solid-propellant artillery rockets, while smuggling disassembled Iranian stocks of the more complex systems.[13] This seemingly precluded the transfer of large solid-propellant missiles, since they could be neither produced locally nor easily broken down into pieces for smuggling.

The appearance of such missiles in the parade indicates either that Iran is willing to run the risk of shipping large solid-propellant missiles over long distances, or, less likely, that it has begun expanding the Houthis’ local production capabilities beyond small artillery rockets. The U.S. Navy’s recent seizure of more than 70 tons of ammonium perchlorate, a main ingredient in solid propellants, bound for Yemen lends some credibility to the latter possibility, though the Houthis would also need a production facility with large, sophisticated equipment to manufacture the missiles locally.[14] In either case, to make the missiles useable, Iran would also need to transfer specialized launching equipment.

An Iranian Missile Comes Full Circle

During the parade in Tehran, Iran’s armed forces unveiled for the first time a missile they called the Rezvan, a liquid-fueled ballistic missile with a claimed range of 1,400 km.[15] While the missile may be “new” to the Iranian military, it has been in the Houthi arsenal since 2019 in the form of the Burkan-3, which the Houthis later began calling the Zulfiqar.[16] 

Top: The Houthi Zulfiqar. Bottom: The Iranian Rezvan.

In fact, the Houthis originally obtained the missile from Iran, but Iran had built this customized version of the Qiam specifically for the non-state group, and there was no evidence Iran had ever deployed it at home.[17] 

The appearance in the parade of a missile originally built for the Houthis is surprising. Iran has been working to improve the precision of its missiles for more than a decade, and the Houthi Zulfiqar, with its poor accuracy at higher ranges, would be a step backwards in that regard. Nor is Iran wanting for missiles that can reach ranges of 1,400 km.

Nevertheless, the Iranian armed forces may find a use for it. Although it would be the first case of a ballistic missile tailor-made for a non-state group finding its way back to the Iranian arsenal, there are other weapons that have followed a similar pattern. The Quds cruise missile, for example, was probably first used by the Houthis in June 2019, months before the September 2019 attack against Saudi Aramco facilities, which the United States believes was launched by Iran. Iran has not formally acknowledged the Quds’s adoption by its armed forces, however. Additionally, some evidence suggests that the IRGC developed and adopted the Shahed-136 kamikaze drone following the transfer of the smaller, more primitive Shahed-131 to non-state partners.[18]

Another, often-overlooked benefit for Iran of transferring weapons to non-state groups is that those groups are more willing to use them in combat, and that allows Iran to collect information about the weapons’ performance. This can inform the development of new systems and variants—or even lead to Iran’s incorporation of the weapon into its own arsenal.


[1] “Yemen: Pro-Houthi army unveils new weapons at parade marking revolution's 8th anniversary,” Middle East Monitor, September 22, 2022, available at, accessed on November 3, 2022; Ned Price, “UN Truce Expiration in Yemen,” U.S. Department of State, October 3, 2022, available at, accessed on November 15, 2022.
[2] “Drones, Ballistic Missiles Showcased At Iranian Military Parade Marking The Anniversary Of The Iran-Iraq War: We Will Annihilate Israel, Conquer Jerusalem, Trample America Underfoot!” MEMRI TV, September 22, 2022, available at, accessed November 3, 2022.
[3] It is possible that the weapons paraded in Sanaa were merely mock-ups. But even so, they signal Iran’s intentions.
[4] For a video of the entire parade, see “The full scenes of the majestic military parade on the occasion of the eighth anniversary of the September 21 revolution,” Yemeni Military Media, YouTube, September 22, 2022, available at (in Arabic), accessed on November 3, 2022.
[5] This and the following assessments are based partially on the author’s own measurement estimates, which compare screenshots taken from the parade with other screenshots and still images. All the images capture the relevant weapon from straight ahead in order to minimize foreshortening and other effects. Multiple measurements were taken for each system using different references and then averaged. Although such measurements are not perfect, they can give a reasonable estimate of a weapon’s absolute dimensions and an even better estimate of its dimensions relative to other, similar weapons.
[6] “Iran Unveils New Long-Range Ballistic Missile,” Tasnim News Agency, February 9, 2022, available at, accessed on November 3, 2022.
[7] “Letter Dated 26 January 2018 from the Panel of Experts on Yemen Mandated by Security Council Resolution 2342 (2017) Addressed to the President of the Security Council,” United Nations Security Council, S/2018/594, 26 January 2018, pp. 118–128, available at, accessed on November 3, 2022; Norbert Brugge, “The Yemeni Burkan Missile Riddle,” Spacerockets, no date, available at, accessed on November 3, 2022.
[8] Norbert Brugge, “The Yemeni Burkan Missile Riddle,” Spacerockets, no date, available at, accessed on November 3, 2022.
[9] “The range of the Qiam missile has reached 1,000 kilometers,” Tasnim News Agency, January 3, 2022, available at (in Persian), accessed on November 3, 2022.
[10] “U.S. Dhow Interdictions,” U.S. Central Command Public Affairs, February 19, 2020, available at, accessed on November 3, 2022; “UK Reveals Royal Navy Seizure of Smuggled Iranian Missiles,” Royal Navy, Ministry of Defence of the United Kingdom, July 7, 2022, available at, accessed on November 3, 2022.
[11] “Letter dated 27 January 2020 from the Panel of Experts on Yemen addressed to the President of the Security Council,” U.N. Security Council, S/2020/326, January 27, 2020, p. 23, available at, accessed on November 7, 2022.
[12] Michael Knights, “Iraqi Militias Show Off Iranian Anti-Air Missile,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, October 21, 2021, available at, accessed on November 3, 2022.
[13] Fabian Hinz, “Missile multinational: Iran’s new approach to missile proliferation,” International Institute for Strategic Studies, April 26, 2021, p. 8, available at, accessed on November 3, 2022.
[14] “U.S. Naval Forces Intercept Explosive Material Bound for Yemen,” U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, November 15, 2022, available at, accessed on November 15, 2022.
[15] “Iran Unveils Rezvan Surface-to-Surface Ballistic Missile in Military Parade,” Tasnim News Agency, September 22, 2022, available at, accessed on November 3, 2022.
[16] “Open-Source Analysis of Iran’s Missile and UAV Capabilities and Proliferation,” International Institute for Strategic Studies, p. 33, available at, accessed on November 3, 2022.
[17] Particularly to maximize the range. For an exhaustive account of the modifications made to the earlier Burkan-2H, see “Letter Dated 26 January 2018 from the Panel of Experts on Yemen Mandated by Security Council Resolution 2342 (2017) Addressed to the President of the Security Council,” United Nations Security Council, S/2018/594, 26 January 2018, pp. 123–124, available at, accessed on November 3, 2022. The Burkan-3/Zulfiqar can be expected to have similar modifications.
[18] The first known public appearance of the Shahed-131 in Iran was at an exhibition of achievements of the IRGC Aerospace Force in May 2014. The system was used in Houthi attacks against Saudi targets in May 2019, as well as in the September 2019 Saudi Aramco attacks. Wreckage of the larger Shahed-136 was apparently first found in Yemen in 2020, and the first indication that the weapon was adopted by Iran’s armed forces was in May 2021. This timeline is most clearly presented in "Iranian UAV Attack Against MOTOR TANKER MERCER STREET," United States Central Command, August 6, 2021, p. 5, available at