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New Iranian satellite launch pad is actually ballistic missile testing site: Analysts

A London-based defense analysis group says that Iran is building a ballistic missile launching facility near the city of Shahrud.

Bushehr nuclear reactorEnlarge
A picture shows the inside of the reactor at the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran. (AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

Satellite imagery studied by a London-based defense analysis group indicates that Iran is building a ballistic missile launching facility near the city of Shahrud, the group said Thursday.

Previously, Iranian officials had said the government was building a new space launch pad for its domestic satellite program at the site.

“This site could be a facility for launching satellites into orbit,” Matthew Clements, editor at IHS Jane's Military and Security Assessments Centre, told The Daily Telegraph. “However, Iran is already building at least one other site for this purpose and, looking at the satellite imagery we have got, we believe that this facility is most likely used for testing ballistic missiles.”

One of the clues the Jane’s analysts spotted in photographs: The unfinished site has no storage for the liquid rocket fuel used in the Iranian space program. Ballistic missiles use solid fuel.

Shahrud is located about 220 miles east of Tehran, near the Caspian Sea and the Turkmenistan border, making it a good place from which to test long-range missiles. Missiles launched from the area “would fly over Iranian territory for 870 miles, meaning large quantities of flight data could be gathered before they drop into the Indian Ocean,” Clements told The Telegraph.

“We often talk about Iran’s nuclear program, but what really spooks countries in the region is the ballistic missiles that could act as a delivery system,” Shashank Joshi, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, told the Telegraph. “A testing site which helps in that regard is concerning. Testing is critical. You don’t improve missiles until you test them.”

Tehran has denied that it’s seeking to develop ballistic missiles that can carry atomic warheads, Agence France-Presse reported.

More from GlobalPost: Iran increasing its ability to produce nuclear bombs: IAEA report

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/iran/130808/new-iranian-satellite-launch-pad-actually-ballistic-mi