Simorgh rocket launched and tested at the Imam Khomeini Space Centre, Iran in this handout photo released by Tasnim News Agency on Thursday on July 27. Credit: Tasnim News Agency/Handout via REUTERS

WASHINGTON — The Defense Intelligence Agency released a new unclassified report that highlights Iran’s space program as a means to advance that nation’s civilian and military technologies.

The report titled ”Iran Military Power” was released Nov. 19 as part of a DIA effort to inform government leaders and the public on major foreign military challenges facing the United States. It is the third in a series. ”Russia Military Power” came out in June 2017 and “China Military Power” in January 2019.

A key concern for the Pentagon is Iran’s development of space rockets to test long-range missiles, said a defense intelligence official who briefed reporters Nov. 19 and asked to not be quoted by name.

“We’re looking at their space program as we determine what could be used for military means,” the official said. DIA does not analyze what percentage of Iran’s program is civilian or military but the agency noted in the report that Iran “recognizes the strategic value of space and counterspace capabilities.”

Iran has a legitimate civilian space program, the official said, but DIA believes that the development of space launch vehicles “could also serve as a testbed for the development of ICBM technologies.” Iran has the largest missile force in the Middle East but most are short-range weapons, the official said. Intercontinental ballistic missiles pose the most concern to the United States.

Some nuggets from the report:

  • Iran has conducted several successful launches of the two-stage Safir rocket since its first attempt in 2008. It has also revealed the larger two-stage Simorgh vehicle, which it launched in July 2017 and January 2019 without successfully placing a satellite into orbit. The Simorgh could serve as a test bed for developing ICBM technologies.
  • Because of the inherent overlap in technology between ICBMs and space launch vehicles, Iran’s development of larger, more capable boosters remains a concern. In 2005, Iran became a founding member of the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization (APSCO) which is led by China, in order to access space technology from other countries.
  • Despite some progress, Iran’s space program is having technical difficulties. The country’s rockets today are only able to launch microsatellites into low Earth orbit and have proven unreliable with few successful satellite launches.
  • The Iran Space Agency and Iran Space Research Center are subordinate to the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, and to the Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics. Iran initially developed its launch vehicles as an extension of its ballistic missile program, but now has genuine civilian and military space launch goals.
  • Iran has counterspace systems like satellite jammers. It also is seeking to improve its space object surveillance and identification capabilities through domestic development and by joining international space situational awareness projects through APSCO.

The U.S. State Department in September announced it was sanctioning Iran’s space agency and two of its research institutes as “proliferators of weapons of mass destruction and WMD delivery systems.” In a news release, State said this was the first time the United States sanctioned Iran’s civilian space agency.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...