“Iran states it has imaging capabilities — actually it’s a tumbling webcam in space, unlikely providing intelligence,” so General Jay Raymond, chief of U.S. Space Command, belittles as non-threatening the first launch of a military satellite by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the world’s deadliest state-sponsored terrorist organization. (See “Pentagon Downplays Iran Military Satellite As ‘Tumbling Webcam'” AFP – April 27, 2020.)
If U.S. Space Command will not take seriously that terrorists can now orbit a military satellite over the United States, that the IRGC is developing space weapons, then who will?
Warning about possible threats from space weapons should be U.S. Space Command’s first priority.
The IRGC’s Noor-1 (“Light-1“) satellite, orbited on April 22, is easy to mock, if you are a sunny optimist determined to “see no evil.”
Noor-1 is tiny, having a volume of only a few liters and variously estimated as weighing only 5-14 kilograms (11-30 pounds)—too small for an effective “spy in the sky” or for much else militarily useful.
Noor-1 is certainly too small for a nuclear weapon.
Orbiting with Noor-1 is the third stage of the Qased (“Messenger“) missile that lofted Noor-1. The third stage is a now expended solid fuel rocket motor, either the Arash-24 probably weighing over 100 kilograms (220 pounds) or the Salman probably weighing over 300 kilograms (661 pounds).
So counting Noor-1 and the third stage together, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps demonstrated capability to orbit over the U.S. a net payload weighing about 105-334 kilograms (231-691 pounds)—enough for a nuclear weapon.
Suspicious minds, like mine, think the IRGC might deliberately try to deceive us into underestimating their space weapon capabilities by separating Noor-1 from the third stage, hoping we will dismiss the significance of the tiny Noor-1 satellite, as done by U.S. Space Command.
U.S. Space Command and virtually all analysts are focused on the IRGC’s Qased missile as the real threat, not the satellite. Rightly, U.S. Space Command and others are concerned about:
—Qased missile’s use of solid rocket motors in the second and third stages, a great leap forward in Iran’s missile technology.
—Solid rocket motors enable a missile to be launched quickly, with minimal preparation, increasing capability for surprise attack.
—Qased’s new Transporter-Erector-Launcher (TEL) enables the IRGC to launch from anywhere, increasing capability for surprise attack.
—The IRGC launched Noor-1 unannounced, attempting to achieve surprise.
—If Iran can develop solid-fueled ICBMs and a mobile TEL to launch them, they will join Russia, China, and North Korea as the only nations in the world with a mobile ICBM: a missile optimized for surprise attack. Not even the United States has mobile ICBMs.
Iran has orbited civilian satellites in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2015, and now a military satellite; has sub-orbited a monkey into space and returned it safely (2013); has medium-range military missiles, more than any other nation in the Mideast; but has not demonstrated a military intercontinental missile equipped with a reentry vehicle capable of penetrating the atmosphere, accurate enough to strike a city.
So U.S. Space Command worries about ICBM threats from Iran in the distant future, but not the potential threat from IRGC satellites here and now. U.S. Space Command does not think like a terrorist organization.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps thinks they are at war with the infidel West for the global triumph of Islam during the “end time” of history. They are willing to do anything to prevail, to take desperate strategic and technological chances.
Is it likely the IRGC will wait to weaponize their space capabilities until they can develop a “true ICBM” as defined by U.S. Space Command?
Right now, the IRGC is probably thinking about how to maximize the harm they can do to the U.S. by satellite delivery of a few hundred kilograms of payload.
Anthrax spores? Radioactive waste?
Not militarily effective, but psychologically terrorizing — which is what terrorists like the IRGC do.
If North Korea, Iran’s strategic partner, gives the IRGC a Super-EMP nuclear weapon, they would not have to wait for a “true ICBM” but could use a satellite to blackout North America and terminate the “Great Satan.”
The EMP Commission Chairman’s Report warns North Korea’s KMS-3 and KMS-4 satellites are potential Super-EMP threats because of technology transfer from Russia including possibly “ultra-small warheads weighing less than 90 kilograms . . . Such weapons would be small enough for North Korea’s satellites.”
The Greatest Generation who won World War II and the Cold War understood instantly the strategic threat from Russia’s Sputnik satellite orbited in 1957. Sputnik was merely the size of a beachball, weighing only 184 pounds.
General Amir Hajizadeh, Commander of the IRGC Aerospace Force, is pleasantly surprised by America’s passive response to Noor-1, telling Iranian press on April 23: “I did not believe they [the U.S.] wouldn’t respond. We had chosen 400 targets to strike in case the U.S. attacks.”
General Hajizadeh says the IRGC will orbit Noor-2 in June. The U.S. should EMP harden its national electric grid and deploy space-based defenses now.