WASHINGTON, Feb. 7 (UPI) -- Is Iran about to put a spy in the sky?
The Israeli debka.com Web site, which maintains a wide circle of sources within Israeli intelligence, has claimed that Tehran may soon launch its own surveillance satellite. The booster vehicle would be a BM25 ballistic missile, "18 of which were purchased from North Korea, notwithstanding Pyongyang's denials of aid to Iran's nuclear program," Debka said in a report published Jan. 28.
Allaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of the Iranian parliament's national security and foreign policy commission, claimed last month that Iran had already constructed its own surveillance satellite and that it had already "converted a ballistic missile into a space launcher," Debka said.
"If this claim is correct, then Iran has a launcher able to put 300 kilograms (660 pounds) into earth orbit -- and by the same definition, an ICBM that could drop more than 300 kilograms anywhere in the world, including Washington DC," Debka said.
Debka said the North Korean BM25s have a potential range of 2,400 miles, which means they could hit targets in the European Union. "Little is known about this missile. However, its conversion to a space launcher would produce an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) able to drop a payload weighing 300 km (660 pounds), the estimated weight of a reconnaissance satellite, anywhere in the world," the Web site said.
North Korea has shown a repeated ability to build and fire reliable intermediate range ballistic missiles but the failure of its ambitious Taepo-Dong-2 intercontinental ballistic missile in its attempted test on July 4, 2006, demonstrated that it still has major problems producing ICBMs with long-range capabilities.
Debka also said its "military sources report that Iran has just finished upgrading its Shehab series, adapting them to solid fuel" although it also cautioned that "most military and intelligence experts doubt the Iranian satellite would survive in orbit for more than a few months before burning out."
"The Islamic Republic's nuclear-missile infrastructure rests further on the reported purchase of a dozen Kh 55 nuclear-capable cruise missiles on the Ukraine's nuclear black market some time ago. They were apparently sold stripped of the components making them functional, including their original 200-kiloton warheads, but may have come with manuals. Some experts in the West and Russia believe Iranian missile engineers were able to dismantle and replicate some of the Kh 55 systems and implant them in their home-assembled missiles," Debka said.
Pro-Western Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has confirmed the sale of the cruise missiles to Iran under a previous Ukrainian government. Those Kh 55s are particularly worrying for Israel because although the Jewish state's own home-produced Arrow anti-ballistic missile interceptor has already demonstrated an impressive capacity to hit and destroy incoming intermediate range ballistic missiles such as the Iranian Shihab in tests, ground-hugging, maneuverable cruise missiles, while much slower, could prove a more difficult challenge.
Russian general warns U.S. on BMD
U.S. efforts to deploy ballistic missile defense systems in Central Europe are really aimed at Russia, a senior Russian general said Tuesday.
"NATO is expanding, and it is expanding directly toward Russia," Gen. Makhmut Gareyev, president of the Russian Academy of Military Sciences, said according to a report carried by the RIA Novosti news agency.
Gareyev noted Washington's drive to establish bases for BMD systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, two Central European nations that were members of the Warsaw Pact from 1955 until the collapse of communism, but that are both now members of the U.S-led NATO alliance. He claimed that NATO was expanding eastward, breaking previous U.S. promises to Moscow that the alliance would not further expand around Russia's periphery.
"NATO is expanding, and it is expanding directly toward Russia," Gareyev said. He dismissed Bush administration assurances that their plan to base BMD assets in Central Eureope was just a defense against Iranian or North Korean rogue missiles saying that argument "holds no water." The real reason for the deployment, Gareyev said, was to preemptively destroy Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles as soon as they were fired, he said.
"The U.S. air-defense system will be able to destroy our missiles at launch," Gareyev said.
Gareyev is one of the most respected and influential figures in Russia's military leadership. His outspoken comments marked significant escalation in the level of rhetoric Russian leaders have used in their continued opposition to U.S. plans to extend the BMD program to America's European NATO allies.
Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin also made new comments arguing against the deployment. And the Russia's Foreign Ministry last month issued a statement that the plans to deploy BMD assets in Poland and the Czech Republic could prove so destabilizing they could even endanger global security.
India sets up new aerospace command
India is planning to establish a new aerospace command to integrate operational deployment of all its-space based assets, the Press Trust of India reported.
India will establish an aerospace command soon to exploit outer space and to control space-based assets, Air Chief Marshal S. P. Tyagi said on Sunday.
The task of creating the command has been given to the Indian Air Force and the IAF has already started work on integrating its space capabilities, Tyagi said according to the report.
"Tyagi's remarks assume significance in the wake of reports that China successfully tested an anti-satellite missile," the PTI report noted.
"As the reach of the IAF is expanding, it has become extremely important that we exploit space and for it you need space assets," Tyagi said. "We are an aerospace power having trans-oceanic reach. We have started training a core group of people for the aerospace command.
"We will take (the) help of ISRO (the Indian Space Research Organization) for the aerospace command but it will have distinct features as it is a military command," Tyagi said.
The command "will combine various components like satellites, radars, communications systems, and fighter aircraft and helicopters," PTI said, citing air force officers as its sources.
"This will be done while taking into consideration diverse needs like communications, reconnaissance and battlefield damage assessment as the reach of the IAF has increased," the report said.