TEHRAN,(Reuters) – Iran said on Tuesday it had upgraded its Shahab-3 missile, already capable of hitting Israel, with solid fuel which could increase its range and accuracy.
Amid criticism from Washington over its nuclear programme, Tehran said last year it had begun a production line of Shahab-3 medium-range missiles, thought by military experts to have a range of 2,000 km (1,250 miles).
Tehran denies U.S. accusations it is seeking an atomic weapon and says it would only use the Shahab-3 in self-defence.
"We tested the first engine of a two-engine missile successfully," Defence Minister Ali Shamkhani told state television on Tuesday.
"Solid fuel not only has greater longevity but also increases the accuracy of the missile," he added.
Iran”s defence ministry said Shamkhani was referring to an upgraded Shahab-3.
Military experts say using a two-stage weapon would be a significant step forward. To cover a greater range, missiles can use a solid-fuel section to lift off. This section will then drop away and the missile will cruise on liquid fuel.
"The Shahab-3 tested up to now was a single stage liquid-propelled missile," said Duncan Lennox, editor of Jane”s "Strategic Weapons Systems".
"Adding a solid-fuel stage would allow it to put a satellite into orbit," he added.
Iran has said it plans to launch a satellite this year.
Lennox cautioned that it was not yet clear whether Iran had developed a full double phase rocket or had just strapped extra boosters onto the side of the existing weapon.
When asked whether solid fuel could significantly improve Shahab-3”s range, Lennox replied: "That all depends on how they have done it".
He said Iran”s move could either signal Iran could send a warhead further, or was simply flaunting its skills with solid-fuel technology.
Shahab is the Persian word for meteor. Based on the North Korean Nodong-1 and modified with Russian technology, the Shahab-3 was first deployed to Iran”s Revolutionary Guard in July 2003.