Iran Unveils New Missile with Hypersonic Glide Vehicle: Could It Soon Carry Nuclear Warheads?

The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps on November 19 unveiled a new class of cruise missile integrating a hypersonic glide vehicle. Few details were given on the missile, although the state run Islamic Republic News Agency reported regarding the unveiling: “During the visit of the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei to the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Force achievements exhibition, the Iranian-made ‘Fattah 2’ hypersonic missile was unveiled.” The exhibition was held at the Ashura Aerospace Science and Technology University, with the news agency described as having “showcased the latest advancements in Iran’s aerospace technology.” Although local media outlets have consistently referred to the Fattah 2 as a cruise missile, Western sources have in many cases referred to it as a ballistic missile. Iran on June 7 already unveiled the first missile in the Fattah series, known simply as ‘Fattah,’ with head of the Revolutionary Guards Corps Aerospace Forces Amirali Hajizadeh having stated at the time: “The precision-guided Fattah hypersonic missile has a range of 1,400 km and it is capable of penetrating all defence shields.” 

After China, Russia and North Korea became the world’s first three countries to field missiles with hypersonic glide vehicles it was long suspected that Iran could begin producing missiles with similar technologies. This was considered likely to be achieved through acquisitions from North Korea which has played a central role to backing Iranian missile development efforts for over four decades including through major technology transfers and component supplies. Hypersonic glide vehicles are able to sustain extreme speeds throughout their flights and not only in their terminal phases, while also retaining high manoeuvrability in both course and pitch making them highly challenging to even detect for enemy air defence systems. Their extreme speeds also seriously limit warning times and make them optimal for first strikes. Iran’s obtaining of such missiles is particularly significant when considering that both Israeli and Western sources have widely concluded that the country likely has the capability to construct nuclear warheads and may have done so already. The country’s close technology sharing partnerships with North Korea, which after decades of work managed to miniaturise its nuclear warheads for mounting on ballistic missiles, has raised concerns that Iran could field a similar capability without the need to carry out nuclear testing.