Thursday, February 23, 2012

The coming conflict with Iran … Part 1, Mysterious explosions near Teheran

Island Turtle will cover Iran’s nuclear and missile development programs in several installments.  It will present information and satellite imagery about Iran’s missile manufacturing facilities, test areas and nuclear development sites.  It will show an underground site, part of a vast military storage area, built into a side of a mountain that has yet to be reported by the media.  It will also report on mysterious explosions and offer guidance on what happened and who is likely behind it.  You will be surprised.  The intent is to help Turtle readers follow news events in Iran intelligently when and if they happen, with locations, coordinates and background facts. 

Subject:  Explosion at Shahab-3 missile site November 12, 2011

On Saturday November 12, in the middle of the day Teheran was shaken by two massive explosions, followed by smaller ones.  Western press reports said windows were broken in Teheran from the blasts 28 miles (45 km) away, near Malard. The first report had 27 killed, including Revolutionary Guard’s Major General Hassan Moghadam, the head of Iran’s missile programs.  Later ones lowered that to 17 Guards, including General Moghadam.  There was speculation from Israeli sources that 10 North Koreans died also, though that was never confirmed.  The Iranian state controlled press initially blamed it on an accident of transferring munitions at an ammunition storage area.  Eventually that changed to two Guard run military facilities several kilometers apart that had accidental explosions.  Press speculation, especially in Israel, claimed it was foreign sabotage.  Neither is correct.

On November 28, the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) published satellite imagery from Digital Globe taken on November 22, 10 days after the blasts.  It showed utter devastation of the complex.  Every building suffered major damage and one simply ceased to exist.  What is most significant is there is no large crater.  That would be expected from such and explosion. The photography shows the damage came from a massive overpressure and also many small but well placed explosions.  It could not come from sabotage or an accident.  It was too widespread.  It could only have come from the air.

The production site in the Digital Globe/ISIS imagery is one of three facilities west of Malard that are involved with Iran’s missile program, most importantly the solid fuel Shahab-3, medium range missile (range 1200 miles, 2000 km).  The three facilities are within 3 miles (5 km) of each other.

Hq and R&D Facility              35° 39.088'N   50° 52.280'E   Probably also hit
Assembly & Propellant          35° 37.450'N   50° 52.422'E   Destroyed Nov. 12, 2011
Static Test area                         35° 36.464'N   50° 52.354'E

The sites have been in existence at least since 2003, but there was an accelerated effort to upgrade them, especially the assembly site, beginning in late 2009.  An unusual looking moveable building (on rails) was constructed to shelter the pits for loading solid fuel propellants.   And an enclosed tower was built, attached to an existing building that is resembles, on a smaller scale, NASA’s Space Shuttle Vertical Assembly Building.  It is most likely intended to align and calibrate the missile’s guidance systems in a vertical configuration.

What can we learn from the Digital Globe/USIS imagery?  First, the main problem is the quality of what they posted.   It is only 650x431 pixels, and that makes it difficult to do damage assessment of small structures.  But all is not lost.  Some things come through, especially if the sun angle gives good contrast or shadows.  The first impression is the breadth of the utter destruction.  The complex is just short of 300 yards in its widest dimension and every major building has significant damage.  As said earlier, roofs are simply flattened.  Building G is the classic example.  Normally you would see the shadow of the roof on the ground.  Here, it is the wall throwing the shadow, along with the row of windows that show through.  Buildings D and E show the same effect, only the walls have been turned into convoluted skeletons, stripped of their skins.  Such damage can only come from an airburst of a very large weapon.  

The other observation is the scorch marks, penetrations and small craters.  We see them in one form or another at most of the buildings that remain.  The pattern of these small explosions is awesome.  The two hits right along the centerline of building A attest to very accurate, well programmed guidance systems.  Different missile warheads have unique patterns of destruction.  The weapon most likely used here is the GBU-39 with the benign name of “Small Diameter Bomb” (SDB). It is a highly versatile weapon.  (Video here) It is a precision guided autonomous 250 pound weapon that carries a tiny 50 pound warhead.  It is designed to be highly lethal at close ranges while limiting collateral damage.  It does it by mixing ultra small pellets of tungsten into the explosive which when detonated, rapidly slow down from air drag.  It has wings that deploy when released and can glide for 60 nautical miles, making it a standoff weapon.  It can be fused for airburst, timed to detonate at a specified distance after impact or as an earth penetrator.  It was used by the Israelis in operation Cast Lead to collapse tunnels and buried weapons caches in Gaza.

Now the whodunit question.  Only two nations have the will and weaponry to pull this off, the US and Israel.  It is really a tossup but the edge goes to the US.  Here ‘s why:  Both nations have SDBs and both nations can make large bombs.  What the Israelis don’t have is ultra stealthy aircraft.  The F-22 Raptor is in a class by itself, so good we won’t sell it to our closest allies, Israel and Australia for security reasons.  And there is the heavy lifter,the B-2.  It  has been modified to carry two 35,000  pound weapons.  Nothing in Israel’s inventory can come close to that.

This was a raid conducted in broad daylight.  It was a “shock and awe” in your face strike designed to tell Iran’s mullahs you can be hit at any time, on any day and you can’t do anything about it.  Shock and awe is a trademark of the US Air Force.   Another tidbit that hints at US involvement – on December 1, just 19 days after the missile site explosions, and 3 days after similar series of explosions removed some buildings at a uranium processing site at Ishfahan Iran, President Obama made this statement to a group of Jewish contributors:

This administration – I try not to pat myself too much on the back – but this administration has done more in terms of the security of the state of Israel than any previous administration….

Was this just a coincidence?  You decide.

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