Iran’s regime has claimed a capability that few other countries on the planet have been able to achieve, save a few select nations led by the US and China – fielding hypersonic missiles on a naval vessel.
A number of Iranian state news outlets on 3 July published articles stating that the head of the Iranian Navy, Rear Admiral Shahram Irani, claimed the new Damavand-2 frigate would be equipped with hypersonic missiles. The state-run IRNA news agency said that the Damavand-2 would be commissioned into service with the Iranian Navy in the coming days.
Exact specifications for the Damavand-2 are unknown, although analysis of imagery suggests a vessel approximately 1,500 tonnes displacement and around 100m in length. The vessel is likely a continuation or sub variant of the Moudge-class light frigates operated by the Iranian Navy.
By comparison, the UK’s Batch 2 River-class offshore patrol vessels displace around 2,000t and are just over 90m in length.
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With such a light displacement and dimensions of the Damavand-2, it is unclear how Iran, if its claims are valid, has been able to accommodate hypersonic missiles.
Loosely defined, a hypersonic missile should be capable of travelling at speed in excess of Mach 5, up to Mach 25 and beyond.
The US-Japanese RIM-161 Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) Block IIA, developed by Raytheon and Mitsubishi, is an exo-atmospheric anti-air missile, purportedly capable of travelling at speed of up to 4.5km/s, or around Mach 13. Measuring around 6.7m in length, the SM-3 can be fired from the Mk 41 vertical launch system (VLS) commonly fitted to US and Japanese warships.
US manufacturer of the Mk 41 VLS, Lockheed Martin, states that the module is available in two sizes: strike and tactical length. The strike module is 7.6m long and typically house larger cruise missiles and ballistic missile defence munitions, while the smaller tactical module measures 6.7m in length.
China has flight tested its DF-ZF hypersonic anti-ship missile, although its length of around 11m is considerably larger than US alternatives. Other hypersonic missiles operated by China include the ship-borne hypersonic YJ-21, which are in service aboard the PLAN’s Type 055 destroyers.
Is Iran’s hypersonic claim viable, or another Qaher 313?
Iran has previously claimed to have developed advanced military hardware, such as a fifth-generation stealth fighter, the Qaher 313, in 2013, although its claims were widely dismissed as propaganda with the platform appearing to be unsuitable for flight and potentially just a ground mock-up.
However, Harshavardhan Dabbiru, aerospace and defence analyst at GlobalData, said Iran does have a homegrown missile design and manufacturing capability, with any such system fitted to be Damavand-2 likely based on the recently unveiled Fattah 2 hypersonic ballistic missile.
Capability claims for the Fattah, which appears to measure around 10m in length, include a speed of Mach 13-15 and range of around 1,400km.
“Iran’s homegrown missile manufacturing capabilities are steadily advancing, and the country in recent years has developed several land attack missiles, including the Dezful, Fattah, Hajj Qasem Soleimani, Kheibar Shekan, Khorramshahr-4 (Kheibar), and Rezvan,” Dabbiru said, adding that while Iranian capabilities “seem exaggerated”, they were “not far-fetched”.
Further, Dabbiru said while the growth in Iran’s missile capabilities did not “immediately” pose a threat to the US and its allies in the Middle East region, such countries would have to be “wary” of the pace of Tehran’s development in the area.
Examples of Iran’s ability to utilise such system include its retaliation for the assassination of Major General Qasem Soleimani, head of the country’s Al Quds paramilitary force, in a US drone strike, which saw US bases in Iraq targetted by long-range missiles.
“The missile attacks by Iran on US bases in 2020, and the Kurdish opposition groups in Iraq in 2022, as well as Iran’s plans to export domestically produced missiles to Russia, show the growth in the country’s missile manufacturing capabilities,” Dabbiru said.
Iran has also cultivated close relationships with Russia and China as Western sanctions prevent it doing business with much of the world.
Tehran has also provided an unknown number of Shahed 131 loitering munitions to Russia for use in Moscow’s war in Ukraine, with the systems seen striking civilian areas across the country, and it is possible that it could further its contributions to Russia’s cause with long-range missiles.