Russian Assistance to Iran's missile programs


Testimony on H.R. 1883, Iran Nonproliferation Act

before Congressman Dana Rohrabacher


Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics of the

Committee on Science

U.S. House of Representatives

Washington, DC

July 13, 1999


by Kenneth R. Timmerman

President, Middle East Data Project, Inc.


My name is Kenneth R. Timmerman, and I am the director of the Middle East Data Project, an independent consulting group that specializes in analyzing strategic trade. We also publish a monthly investigative newsletter, The Iran Brief.

The public record of Russian government-sponsored transfers of missile technology to Iran is dense. In the 13-page chronology I have appended to my testimony, members can see just how much we know about this very grave threat to the post Cold War security environment.

Clearly Russia committed herself to not transferring nuclear or missile technology to aggressive regimes such as the Islamic Republic of Iran or Saddam Hussein's Iraq, when she agreed to accept U.S. aid in the aftermath of the Cold War.

But President Yeltsin and his top aides have been using these transfers as the currency of blackmail, to extort ever greater amounts of aid from the U.S. taxpayer, all in the name of securing Russia's weapons and preventing the leakage of Russian technology and Russian scientists to radical states.

Clearly, Mr. Chairman, we have been duped. And duped again.

Russian Assistance

Russian assistance to Iran's missile programs involves three key elements:

1) general scientific and academic exchanges;

2) missile-specific technology transfers and training

3) project-specific transfers of equipment, material, and design information

Scientific and academic exchanges

Ruszian scientists and academics began working in Iran not long after Mikhail Gorbachev expanded Soviet ties with Iran in 1988. At the time, the strategic goal of the Soviet Union was to see the U.S. military naval presence in the Persian Gulf reduced . Today, the Russian Federation and the Islamic Republic of Iran share that same goal. We should keep that in mind as we contemplate the record of the Russian government's missile and nuclear transfers to Iran. They all serve a strategic purpose, which the Clinton administration has been loathe to acknowledge in its desire to support Mr. Yeltsin and the cleptocrats who surround him.

Today, Russian academics teach scientific disciplines in a variety of Iranian universities. They must get approval from the Russian intelligence service to do so. According to one Iranian army officer who fought in the Iran-Iraq war, the majority of these academic exchanges involve weapons-related fields. For instance, Russian instructors teaching underwater acoustics are said to be aiding Iranian efforts to design and build mini-submarines. Russian aerospace engineers have helped Iran upgrade U.S.-origin fighter jets and helicopters, integrating Russian-built missiles and avionics.

So for the better part of a decade, Russia has been training an entire generation of Iranian weapons designers.

This has been a conscious policy decision on the part of the Russian government, not some ad-hoc arrangement by unemployed scientists.

Missile Specific technology transfers, training, and design

In the missile arena, eight State institutes and recently-privatized universities have been identified in the public source literature for providing training in ballistics, aeronautic design, liquid and solid fuel booster design, and missile guidance to Iranian students.

These are highly specialized disciplines, not just ordinary graduate student work. Once again, the Russian government has direct involvement. Not only does it approve visa application for the visiting Iranians, but given the sensitive nature of their studies it must grant specific permits allowing the Iranians access to classified areas.

The state security apparatus is facilitating these exchanges, and according to both Israel and U.S. sources, is using information we provide to them through what used to be called the Gore-Chernomyrdin commission, to better conceal their activities.

Project-specific transfers of equipment, material, parts and assemblies

Beyond this, Iran has turned to Russian state-owned and recently privatized firms to acquire missile manufacturing equipment, specialized materials, parts and subassemblies, as well as entire rocket motors. In so doing, Russia has committed Category I and Category II violations of the Missile Technology Control Regime, which it has pledged to respect.

I have appended a list of 20 Russian entities engaged in these activities, detailing what we know from the public record. These are not trivial items, Mr. Chairman. But the real number is likely to be several times that many. We are talking about a massive hemorrhage of strategic technology.


The case of the Russian Space Agency

The Russian Space Agency is in a category by itself - not merely because it is the subject of our hearing today - but because it oversees virtually the entire Russian space and missile industry.

The RSA owns many of the institutes and production facilities that are currently assisting Iran's missile program. And those it does not own, it controls, by doling out research money and production contracts.

If the RSA wanted to shut down the missile pipeline to Iran, it could do so tomorrow. Obviously, until now, the RSA has not been made to feel it had anything to lose by continuing this trade with Iran.

The Russians have attempted to pin the blame on Glavcosmos, which was one of the entities sanctioned by the White House in July 1998. Glavcosmos oversees foreign sales of space technology, and is deeply involved in Iran . But Glavcosmos is just a trading company, Without the RSA, Glavcosmos would have no technology to sell. To cut off the missile pipeline, you have to go to the source. And that is the Russian Space Agency.

The KOSAR missile

And the bad news is that the Shahab-3 and Shahab-4 programs are only the beginning. Iran is preparing to test a new multi-stage missile that if successful will give it the capability of reaching the continental United States.

The new missile, code-named "Kosar," is being designed with direct assistance from Russian aerospace entities. Early reports suggest it will be powered with a version of Russia's RD-216 liquid fuel booster engine, which was used in the Soviet era SS-5 IRBMs . The RD-216 was developed by Energomash, which is under the direct control of the Russian Space Agency.

If you have not already done so, Mr. Chairman, I strongly recommend that you request a classified briefing on the Kosar missile , and on the ongoing preparations at Iran's Shahroud missile range for a test launch that could occur later this summer.


Iran's strategy is Russia's strategy

The Islamic Republic considers the development of long-range ballistic missiles of tremendous strategic importance. These missiles allow them to target Israel, thus making Iran a "front-line" state and a direct player in the making of peace or war. They also give Iran the ability to blackmail the United States, and limit our freedom of action in the Persian Gulf.

The Russian government shares these aims. Former Prime Minister Primakov was fond of saying he wanted to see international checks and balances imposed on U.S. power. In particular, Primakov wanted to see the UN Security Council take precedence over the U.S. Congress or the White House when it came to deciding on foreign military intervention.

What better check on U.S. power than to have radical, anti-American regimes in the Middle East equipped with missiles capable of reaching the United States?

So far, Mr. Chairman, the administration has missed every opportunity for slowing down Iran's deadly march toward ICBM capability.

This legislation may be our last chance to accomplish that goal.