A new report from The New York Times on Wednesday revealed that weapons expert have discovered a secret Iranian missile base in the remote Iranian desert and multiple independent experts say there is strong evidence that suggests the base is developing long-range missiles.
The discovery was made this spring by a group of weapons researchers from California as they were reviewing new television programs developed by Iran about General Hassan Tehrani, a scientist who ran Iran's long-range missile research site all the way up until 2011 when he was killed in an explosion. The New York Times reports:
... they stumbled on a series of clues that led them to a startling conclusion: Shortly before his death, the scientist, Gen. Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam, oversaw the development of a secret, second facility in the remote Iranian desert that, they say, is operating to this day.
The researchers analyzed numerous satellite photos over an extensive period of time and came to the conclusion that they believe that the facility is developing "advanced rocket engines and rocket fuel, and is often conducted under cover of night."
The Times notes that there is the possibility that the site is developing shorter-range missiles that already exist in Iran's arsenals or that it could be some sort of an "unusually sophisticated space program." The Times continues:
But an analysis of structures and ground markings at the facility strongly suggests, though does not prove, that it is developing the technology for long-range missiles, the researchers say. ...
Five outside experts who independently reviewed the findings agreed that there was compelling evidence that Iran is developing long-range missile technology.
"The investigation highlights some potentially disturbing developments," said Michael Elleman, a missile expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies told the Times. The Times continues:
Many military technologies can be developed, at least in early stages, indoors. Ballistics labs, wind tunnels and enrichment facilities can be hidden in buildings or underground.
Missiles are an exception. Their engines must be fitted into stands and test-fired — hazardous work that is typically done outdoors. And engine tests, when conducted in desert landscapes like those around Shahrud, can burn ground scars, shaped like candle flames, into the terrain.
The researchers revealed that they found two major ground scars that were larger than ones previously found at General Tehrani's facility when he was developing long-range missiles. The researchers also said that the test stands that are used to test the missiles are a giveaway as to the missile's size. The researchers estimated that the missiles being developed are big enough to be considered intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The secret site is located near the Iranian town of Shahrud, where the researchers found even more troubling evidence that could be clues about what is going on there. the Times notes:
And there appeared to be heavy vehicle traffic in and out of a tunnel leading underground, suggesting that Shahrud sits atop a large subterranean structure, the researchers say. ...
The researchers were especially struck by the fuel — or, more precisely, they say, the fact that there was none to be seen. No storage tanks, fuel trucks or fueling stations. This underscored suspicions that Shahrud is building engines that burn solid fuel, they say. ...
Liquid-fueled missiles must be fueled right before launch, which requires time and access to special fueling facilities, making them easier for enemy forces to find and destroy. But solid-fueled missiles can be hidden in remote locations and fired at a moment’s notice.
Missile expert David Wright said that the use of solid fuel would point to an ICBM and not necessarily a space program or a civilian program.
"If the goal is to launch satellites, it makes more sense to use liquid-fuel rockets," Wright told the Times, adding that solid fuel is "a convenient way to also develop the technology for a solid ICBM."
Jeffrey Lewis, who is in charge of the group of researchers, told the Times that he is concerned that the United States has greatly underestimated the missile capabilities of Iran.
"We’ve stumbled onto this program that was much closer to being done than we’d realized," Lewis told the Times. "Like we did with North Korea, we are underestimating how capable they are. The Iranians are choosing to restrain themselves for political reasons."
In response to the Times' report, David Reaboi, a national security consultant and senior vice president at the Security Studies Group, wrote that this discovery should raise serious concerns from the West about Iran's nuclear capabilities.