Since the July 2015 announcement of the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran has tested as many as 14 ballistic missiles. This number is based on aggregated open-source reporting,1 as no official government or United Nations numbers have been made available to the public. Although the deal did not address ballistic missiles2 – the likeliest delivery mechanisms for nuclear warheads – the UN Security Council resolution endorsing the deal called on Iran to refrain from testing nuclear-capable missiles.3 This memo explains how the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) has calculated the number of ballistic missiles Iran has fired and explains the policy implications of these tests.
The Challenge of Calculating the Number of Tests
While Iran has tested ballistic missiles on multiple occasions since July 2015, there does not appear to be a consensus in Washington, or in the international community, on how many it has tested, which platforms were tested, and when they were launched.4 The challenge derives from trying to navigate multiple conflicting sources, including reports by Western media outlets that rely on government officials, Persian-language open-source material, reports by non-governmental and international organizations, and congressional testimony.
The primary reason for this lack of clarity is apparent: The Obama administration provided little, if any, public information on Iranian ballistic missile launches in the post-deal environment. It responded with scant condemnations, and in one case, sanctions.5 Had the U.S. intelligence community, USSTRATCOM, or other combatant commands supported by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency or Department of Defense weighed in publically, the international community would know the answer to the question of how many ballistic missiles Iran has tested since July 2015.
1. Despite being able to carry an unconventional payload, this assessment ignores cruise missiles like the Soumar, which Iran reportedly tested in late January. See: “Iran tested nuclear-capable cruise missile: German newspaper,” Reuters, February 2, 2017. (http://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-missiles-cruise-idUSKBN15H0WR). For more on the Soumar, see: Behnam Ben Taleblu and Patrick Megahan, “Iran Fires Cruise Missile Through Sanctions Loophole,” Foundation for Defense of Democracies, March 11, 2015. (http://www.defenddemocracy.org/media-hit/behnam-ben-taleblu-iran-fires-cruise-missile-through-sanctions-loophole/)
2. Despite advice from analysts. See, for example: Behnam Ben Taleblu, “Don’t Forget Iran’s Ballistic Missiles,” War on the Rocks, August 25, 2014. (https://warontherocks.com/2014/08/dont-forget-irans-ballistic-missiles/)
3. United Nations Security Council, “Resolution 2231 (2015): Ballistic missile-related transfers and activities,” accessed February 3, 2017. (http://www.un.org/en/sc/2231/restrictions-ballistic.shtml)
4. The numbers usually cited range from five to eight. For example, see “Statement on Iranian Ballistic Missile Test,” Website of Congressman Brad Schneider, January 31, 2017. (https://schneider.house.gov/media/press-releases/statement-iranian-ballistic-missile-test); Michael Elleman, “Iran’s Ballistic Missile Program,” Written Statement Presented to U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, May 24, 2016, page 6. (http://www.banking.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/f64d023a-d6fc-4dc4-84a7-ea10ba8192cf/90DC029490361D182584B92FCAD76111.052416-elleman-testimony.pdf); Lucas Tomlinson and Jennifer Griffin, “Iran launched another ballistic missile in secret last month, US officials say,” Fox News, January 31, 2017. (http://www.foxnews.com/world/2017/01/31/iran-launchedanother-ballistic-missile-in-secret-last-month-us-officials-say.html)
5. As noted in: Behnam Ben Taleblu, “Sanctions Delay Lets Tehran Expand Missile Power,” Foundation for Defense of Democracies, January 11, 2016. (http://www.defenddemocracy.org/media-hit/behnam-ben-taleblu-sanctions-delay-lets-tehran-expand-missilepower/). For sanctions, see: U.S. Department of the Treasury, Press Release, “Treasury Sanctions Those Involved in Ballistic Missile Procurement for Iran,” January 17, 2016. (https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/jl0322.aspx)