Amid an accelerating arms race and the current political and military debates over the development of missile programs, a recent study entitled “Iran’s Forward Defense Doctrine: Missile and Space Programs” has been published by the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah). It is written by Navid Ahmed, a researcher on military and strategic affairs at Rasanah.
The study, divided into 10 subject areas, argues that the massive trove of Iranian weapons is pushing the entire world to the edge of a severe crisis. Since the 1979 revolution, the Iranian theocratic system has been entrenching its power by developing a particular strategic stand of thought, which has resulted in the emergence of a ‘forward defense’ doctrine based on an interplay between conventional deterrence and plausible deniability. According to the study, the threat of asymmetrical warfare – by using drones and missiles – has been Iran’s best stratagem instead of an all-out conflict.
Moreover, the study states that Iran has been consistently developing nuclear warheads for its missile program; it now has the largest assortment of missiles in the Middle East. Similarly, its space program is no different from its nuclear program; both have a predominant military dimension, which has become a looming threat to regional security and stability. The study reviews a wide assortment of Iran’s ballistic and anti-ship cruise missiles, noting that Iran cannot buy new missiles due to US sanctions. Therefore, Iran ardently keeps testing and developing its missiles to achieve better payload capacities. The study chronologically details Iran’s missile program since the beginning of the Cold War through the present time, highlighting the rising tensions over Tehran’s development of nuclear warheads – which it claims are only for conventional use. The study argues that Iran’s air defense system confirms that Tehran is persistent in expanding and strengthening its air defense capabilities based on copying. It is quite likely that Iran will continue this path if the arms embargo continues to be enforced. The study also discusses Iran’s intention to militarize space and develop the precision capabilities of its missile force.
According to the study, “Iran’s military strategy’s key [geopolitical] component is denial of access to the Strait of Hormuz, which remains vital for all its neighbors […] Though Tehran occasionally shows off its anti-access prowess by targeting mock models of US carriers and ships, there is still much lacking to achieve the desired results.” The Iranian space program remains dubious and quite hard to predict; however, Iran is developing it by concluding deals with nations and black-marketeers who circumvent US sanctions, the study adds.
Finally, it concludes that Iran’s missile force does not make it invincible in a war against rivals across the Gulf or their western allies — due to their military powers — but it without a doubt deters them from initiating a conflict by increasing its costs, which will not only be material but human too.