Iran Joins Only Two World Powers with Strategic Cruise Missiles
18 March 2005
The Ukrainian prosecutor-general Svyatoslav Piksun created a major international flap Friday, March 18, when he admitted to the Financial Times that 18 X-55 strategic cruise missiles, also known as Kh-55, had been “exported” - 12 to Iran and 6 to China in 2001. He could not explain how the “significant leak” of technology from the former Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal occurred, but said the missiles had been sold without nuclear warheads.
The X-55 has a ranged of 3,000 km and is capable of carrying 200 kiloton nuclear warheads. Launched from Su-24 long-range strike aircraft in the Iranian air force, it can put Japan, all of Russia and Israel within range. Piksun’s admission is the first official confirmation of the Ukrainian missile sale that was first made public last month by a Ukrainian parliament member.
Their acquisition heightens concerns about Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The US embassy in Kiev is “closely monitoring” the investigation and demands the findings be made public in full. The Japanese embassy echoed the demand.
DEBKAfile’s Moscow sources reveal that the Ukrainian shipment to Iran included radioactive materials for making “dirty bombs.”
According to DEBKAfile’s military sources, the 12 strategic cruise missiles place the strategic ratio between the Islamic Republic and Israel on a completely new level. Iran shares this asset with only two other world powers, the United States and Russia. This weapon is used for destroying known relatively fixed-position targets, such as Israel’s Dimona nuclear center and population centers. Its guidance system combines inertial-Doppler navigation and position correction based on in-flight comparison of terrain in targeted regions with images stored in the memory of its on-board computer. The propulsion system is a dual-flow engine located underneath the missile’s tail.
Possession of the Kh-55 makes Iran’s Shahab-3 or its projected Shahab-4 missile programs irrelevant. Tehran may have given them exposure as a red herring to distract attention from its high-profile missile asset.
The breakup of the Soviet Union left about 1,000 missiles in Ukraine’s arsenal, half of which were meant to be turned over to Russia in the 1990s and half destroyed under a US-funded disarmament program. The 18 sold under the table slipped through the cracks of this accord.
The previous government in Kiev arrested and charged a local businessman for
the illegal exports and his trial is still underway, the Ukrainian prosecutor
said, adding that two Russian businessmen were suspected of masterminding the
sale, one of whom, Oleg Orlov, was arrested last July in Prague in response
to a Ukrainian warrant. Under the new government that took office in January,
SBU chief Alexander Turchinov has reopened the investigation.
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