The data points keep getting better and better. We now know that 10/11 missiles hit (up from the initial estimate of 6/11). The damage they did has also been upgraded, with a Danish soldier speaking of many helicopters destroyed (as opposed to the US claim of one damaged) and 11 US soldiers reported injured.
More importantly, the very low CEP (~12m) has been more or less conclusively confirmed.
This means that Iran has developed precision ballistic missile targeting years ahead of schedule. Commenter Annatar has dug up some thinking from strategic arms expert Michael Elleman:
Assuming the Fateh-110s were aiming for the center of the airfield, the spatial distribution of the impacts indicates a CEP of 800–1,100 meters, depending on the calculation method employed. ”
“It will require very different technologies to the Fateh-110 to achieve the design objectives. Adding a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver, or the Russian, French or Chinese equivalents, to the inertial navigation system to provide precise updates will only improve Emad’s accuracy by about 20–25%, not enough to alter its military utility. To achieve the precision needed to destroy military targets consistently and reliably, Iran must develop a post-boost control system and terminal guidance capabilities. With terminal guidance and control, missile warheads can be maneuvered to the target just before impact. Based on the time other countries took to develop precision-guided ballistic missiles with a range greater than 300 km, Iran is not expected to possess an arsenal of accurate medium-range missiles before 2025. Extensive foreign assistance from China or Russia could shorten the timeline to a few years, however.”
And here his Iran’s Missile Priorities After The Nuclear Deal from 2018:
The Fateh-110’s CEP of 800–1,000 meters is on a par with that of the Shahab-1 missile. The lethal effects of a missile warhead weighing 500–1,000 kilograms is limited to about 50 meters, making it easy to understand why the missile is not expected to land close enough to kill or destroy a specific target. As with the Shahab-1, the Fateh-110 is unlikely to succeed, unless the target is very large, like an airfield or military base. Iran will likely need many more years and scores of flight tests to reduce the CEP to below 200 meters, the minimum accuracy requirement for a missile to have a reasonable chance of destroying a specific military target.
In reality, they were developed by 2019, in precisely that year, since accuracy during Iran’s missile strikes on Islamic State as late as October 2018 were pretty low:
Impact points mostly fall along the line of flight. Range errors typically exceed cross-range errors. If we assume (and its a big *if*) all missiles (impacting at points 1-5) were aimed at one specific point, a 400 – 600m CEP is derived, if point 6 is included CEP ~900m 2/3
— Michael Elleman (@EllemanIISS) January 8, 2020
Mini Sputnik moment? Could the sharp US stand down after this be connected with the generals realizing that war with Iran would be far costlier than they expected, and communicating this to Trump and Co? It was at any rate quite interesting how Trump went from being very aggressive to friendly soon after the missile hits, as well as his difficulties with speaking the next day. Perhaps the real impact on that day was that the people in a position to know – military analysts, generals, the civilian leaders they briefed – realized that a war with Iran would be far, far costlier than had previously been assumed. Assuming Iran has hundreds of these Fateh missiles, with CEP = 12 meter accuracy, that would put them in a position to reduce Saudi oil infrastructure and US military bases across the entire region, whereas before they were only in a position to cause some minor damage to Saudi and Israeli cities. As Annatar points, this means Iran has its own version of a “Samson option” now.
To be sure, the US can still fight (and even win) against Iran if it was really determined to:
Fixed bases are not a sine qua non of warfare. You can conceal planes and drones. Troops can be billetted amongst civilians, as has been practiced since times immemorial. And, of course, the launchers and missiles can be themselves targeted. Though this will not be trivial, since Iran is big and has a lot of mountains and hardened underground bases, where it has been accumulating missiles for decades.
“I don’t wish anyone to have that level of fear,” he said. “No one in the world should ever have to feel something like that.”
Psychologists are now on their way to Kuwait to help the Danish soldiers recover from the experience.
There are also consequences to this that stretch beyond Iran. We now also know that even a country with a moderately large population and modest average IQ – if with a sizable smart fraction, albeit a brain drained one – that is committed to its sovereignty (but not at the cost of Best Korea-like levels of militarization) can develop capabilities that make US intervention a nightmare. E.g., what Iran can accomplish now, a Bolivarian Venezuela may potentially accomplish in another decade. Especially considering the fruitful relations between these countries.
Some further questions:
1. It is unlikely that CEP was so low with just inertial guidance. Were the Iranians reliant on foreign SatNav? If so, who’s? There is debate over this, with it being possible that Iran’s own milsats were sufficient.
2. Could targeting be made dynamic (to also threaten warships, esp. aircraft carriers). I imagine this would be much harder, but not impossible, the Chinese at any rate seem to be getting there with the DF-41.
That said, the more logical route would probably be to go for swarms of cruise missiles. Anyone know what the status of development is there?
I had assumed Iran would be largely powerless against USN, since AFAIK most of their anti-ship missile arsenal is composed of antiquated Chinese C-802s (a Hezbollah-fired missile did damage an Israeli corvette in 2006, but it had its countermeasures turned off at the time; the USS Mason (DDG-87) shrugged off a volley from Yemen fired by the Houthis in 2016. However, if Iran has more capable anti-ship missiles in respectable numbers – and this particular surprise should make us raise the chances of that being the case – then the calculations would change. It seems to have some numbers of Sunburns, though no Bastion systems.