Published On: Mon, May 6th, 2013

The Syrian Sophisticated Missile Systems

By The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI)

Syria has one of the largest missile arsenals in the Middle East, and is actively engaged in missile proliferation. Syria’s missile build-up began as a deterrent to its primary adversary, Israel. Unable to match Israel’s conventional military capabilities, Syria began seeking an unconventional deterrent which resulted in what is widely alleged to be a robust chemical weapons program and ballistic missile delivery systems. Syria’s arsenal is limited to short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM). Given the close proximity of potential regional adversaries, and Syria’s limited manufacturing and scientific capabilities, it is unlikely that the country will pursue long-range missiles in the near future.

Syria produces many of its missiles; however, it is dependent upon foreign assistance for advanced components and technologies. Consequently, Syria’s production capacity is limited by foreign imports, and Syria is not capable of significantly improving on designs or producing more advanced missiles without assistance. All of Syria’s ballistic missiles are capable of carryingchemical warheads. [1]

Increased proliferation concerns have arisen in recent years given Syria’s warm relations with Hezbollah and Hamas. Syria is known to have transferred artillery rockets to both groups, and Israeli and U.S. officials have alleged that Syria has also supplied one or both groups with short-range ballistic missiles. [2] As of December 2012, civil war is ongoing in Syria.

Capabilities

Table 1: Design Characteristics of Syria’s Ballistic Missiles

Table 1 shows the basic design characteristics of Syria’s ballistic and cruise missile arsenals. The foundation of Syria’s arsenal is the Scud, of which Syria possesses three variations. Syria first received the Scud-B (Russia: R-17 “Elbrus”/NATO: SS-1-C) from North Korea in the late 1980s, and the Scud-C (Russia: R-17M “Elbrus-M”/NATO: SS-1-D) shortly thereafter. [3] With assistance from North Korea and Iran, Syria established its own production line, and now assembles, maintains, and repairs its Scud B and C missiles. Capable of producing approximately 30 Scud-B/Cs per year, Syria nonetheless remains dependent on foreign assistance for advanced missile components and technologies. [4] Syria is believed to possess several hundred Scud-Bs and Scud-Cs, but has fewer than 50 launchers for each system. [5]

The exact nature and status of Syria’s Scud-D (Russia: R-17VTO/NATO: SS-1-E/DPRK: Hwasong 7) is unknown. Reports indicate that Syria’s Scud-D is a modified Scud-C with a longer range and advanced guidance system. [6] Israeli intelligence confirmed the existence of the Scud-D in 2005, when a test launch failed and fragments of the missile landed in southern Turkey. [7] It is likely that Syria did not produce the guidance system indigenously, but rather imported it from a foreign supplier. Syrian modifications to increase the Scud-C’s range were basic in nature, and should not be considered a major advancement in the country’s missile production capabilities. Should Syria’s Scud-D have a 700km range, as reported, this would enable Syria to field the missile deep within its own territory, reducing its vulnerability and susceptibility to an adversary’s preemptive strike.

Syria produces a variant of the Iranian Fateh-110-A (China: DF-11-A/NATO: CSS-8), domestically called the M-600. [8] The M-600 is a solid propellant, road mobile SRBM. In contrast to liquid propellant, solid propellant may be stored in the missile, eliminating the need to fuel the missile prior to launch. Since fueling a missile takes several days, by eliminating this step Syria reduces the likelihood that a planned missile launch could be detected by its adversaries in advance. In this regard, the proliferation of solid-fueled missile technology in the Middle East is profoundly destabilizing.

Syria reportedly possesses two Chinese-made road-mobile SRBM’s, the Dongfeng-15 (DF-15/Export name: M-9/NATO: CSS-6) and the Dongfeng-11 (DF-11/Export name: M-11/NATO: CSS-7); however, these reports are unconfirmed. [9] If Syria possesses these missiles, the DF-15 would likely be Syria’s longest range missile, possessing a range of 600 to 800 km, while the DF-15 and DF-11 would likely be Syria’s most reliable missiles. In addition, each missile utilizes a solid propellant motor, which reduces the needed preparation time for launch, and therefore decreases the time available for detection. This, in conjunction with its range and ability to be fielded deep in Syrian territory, would make the DF-15 Syria’s most strategically important ballistic missile.

In addition to its ballistic missile arsenal, Syria has a small arsenal of Russian anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM). Syria’s cruise missiles are designed for coastal defense; however, such missiles may be used against cities as well. Syria’s cruise missiles are capable of being equipped with chemical warheads. [10]

History

Early Attempts to Achieve a Strategic Deterrent: 1970-1989

Syria’s missile program began in November 1970, when President Hafez al-Assad assumed power and immediately sought closer military ties with the Soviet Union. [11] This resulted in Syrian purchase of the R-70, a rudimentary battlefield short-range ballistic missiles (BSRBM), which was first delivered in early 1973. [12] Syria immediately used the missile in the 1973 Yom Kippur War against Israel, but the missile’s limited range and poor accuracy rendered it ineffective. [13] Syria therefore requested the more advanced Scud-B from the Soviet Union, receiving its first delivery in 1974. Although outdated by modern standards, the Scud-B represented a significant upgrade from the R-70.

Syria learned from both the Six-Day War (1967) and the Yom Kippur War that its conventional forces were dramatically inferior to Israel’s. President Hafez al-Assad therefore adopted a doctrine of “Strategic Parity,” to eliminate the gap, which included an asymmetric deterrent strategy based on chemical weapons and their delivery systems. [14] Syria may have equipped the Scud-B with chemical warheads as early as 1979. [15]

Syria continued to bolster its missile arsenal, reportedly receiving a North Korean Scud-C, possibly via Iran, in the early 1980s. While this allegation is unconfirmed, Syria did receive the Scud-C from the Soviet Union in 1980. By seeking the same missile from multiple suppliers, Syria demonstrated its commitment to building a ballistic missile arsenal.

The 1982 Lebanon War once again demonstrated the superiority of Israeli conventional forces. Therefore, in early 1983 Syria attempted to acquire a more advanced BSRBM with improved accuracy and payload. Damascus negotiated with the Soviet Union for the OTR-21, and by late 1983 received its first shipment. [16] The OTR-21 replaced the highly inaccurate R-70, and was intended to serve as a battlefield weapon in any future conflict with Israel. Syria attempted to acquire the OTR-23 “Oka” (NATO: SS-23 “Spider”) from the Soviet Union in 1987. [17] However, Syria’s attempts to acquire the missile failed due to the USSR’s signing of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 1987, which required the destruction of its ground-launched missiles possessing ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. [18]

New Partners and Improved Capabilities: 1990-2007

The Soviet Union’s collapse forced Syria to seek new missile suppliers. By the early 1990s, Syria began looking to China, North Korea and Iran for assistance, none of whom are members of theMissile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). [19]

According to the CIA, Syria signed an agreement with China as early as 1989 for the M-9. [20] Whether China ever delivered M-9 missiles to Syria remains unconfirmed, and some experts believe U.S. pressure on China successfully halted the deal. [21] Conflicting reports, however, claim China may have circumvented U.S. pressure by providing Syria with the technologies and materials necessary for producing the missile. [22] Reports that Syria attempted to acquire M-11 missiles from China, which could be deployed on converted Scud B launchers and used to deliver chemical weapons, are similarly unconfirmed. [23]

In 1992, with assistance from North Korea and China, Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC) constructed two missile complexes at Aleppo and Hama. [24] The facilities included missile assembly plants, liquid and solid fuel production plants, and hardened concrete storage bunkers for missiles and launchers. [25] The Aleppo facility is also reportedly used for chemical warhead fitting. [26] In 2007, Syria allegedly attempted to weaponize a Scud-C withmustard gas, resulting in an explosion and 15 fatalities. [27]

After the 1991 Gulf War, Saudi Arabia and other members of the coalition that opposed Iraqrewarded Syria with several billion dollars for its involvement. [28] Syria used a portion of this money to purchase Scud-Cs and missile production equipment from North Korea. [29] In July 1992, Syria tested the Scud-C with North Korean assistance, conducting a similar test again in 1997. [30] It is widely believed that North Korea continued to ship Scud-Cs to Syria throughout the 1990s. While the total number of missiles involved is unknown, it is reportedly several hundred. [31]

North Korea is also believed to have assisted Syria with its Scud-D program. In 2000, Syria allegedly received Scud-D and related technology directly from North Korea. [32] Other reports contend that along with North Korea, China and Iran have been actively assisting Syria to produce the Scud-D. [33]

By the late 1990s Syria began to once again look to Russia for missiles and related technologies. Reports suggest that in 1999 Russia helped Syria to establish a solid fuel development capacity. [34] In 2008 President Bashar al-Assad visited Russia to negotiate a deal to acquire the solid-propelled BSRBM, the Iskander-E (GRAU: 9K720; NATO: SS-26 ‘Stone’). [35] The Iskander-E’s capacity to fly at a variable trajectory could aid Syria in evading Israeli air defenses, and the missile could also be equipped with unconventional warheads. [36] However, the negotiations collapsed under U.S. and Israeli pressure, marking the second round of failed negotiations since 2005. [37] Determined to acquire a solid fueled BSRBM, Syria turned to Iran, who in 2008 helped to establish a Syrian domestic production capacity for the Iranian Fateh-110A, known in Syria as the M-600. [38] Israel claims that Syria has since exported the missile to Hezbollah and Hamas. [39]

Recent Developments and Current Status

Although Syria’s indigenous capabilities have improved over time, the country continues to rely on foreign assistance from Chinese, North Korean, Iranian and possibly Russian entities for advanced components and technologies.

In response to Syria’s proactive steps to improve its arsenal, the United States and Israel are actively seeking to disrupt Damascus’s acquisition of missile technologies. Syria’s SSRC and theHigher Institute of Applied Science and Technology (HIAST) are under U.S. sanctions. [40] In 2005, the United States extended the Iran Nonproliferation Act to Syria and North Korea with the intention of preventing these countries from obtaining technology related to weapons of mass destruction, missiles, and conventional weapons. [41] Israeli officials claim that Syria has missiles aimed at almost every part of Israel and the disputed Golan Heights. Israel has responded to the perceived Syrian missile threat by improving its Arrow Missile Defense system, training its troops to respond to missile and rocket attacks, and working diplomatically to prevent Syrian acquisition of missile technologies from foreign suppliers, such as Russia. [42]

Israel remains Syria’s foremost motivation to acquire more advanced missile systems; however, Syria is also concerned about other potential regional threats, and the U.S./NATO presence in the Middle East. [43] Syrian missile procurement could also be driven by the decades-long geopolitical rivalry between Iraq and Syria. [44] Although it is unclear whether Syria will pursue long-range ballistic missile systems, Damascus continues to see increasingly advanced ballistic missile systems as vital to its security.

In March 2011, many Syrians began to participate in what has been dubbed the Arab Spring, publically demonstrating against the ruling Ba’ath party and President Assad. The Syrian government responded by using violent force against the protesters, which resulted in additional demonstrations and protests across the country. Events continued to follow this pattern, with protests rapidly escalating into a national uprising. In July 2011, a group of military officers defected and announced the formation of the anti-government Free Syrian Army (SFA), followed by the August 2011 formation of the anti-government Syrian National Council. As of December 2012, a civil war is ongoing across the country. The conflict in Syria continues to raise proliferation and security concerns with regards to the security of Syria’s weapons stockpiles, and particularly its missiles and chemical weapons.

 

Sources:
[1] “R-17 (Scud B/C/D variants),” Jane’s Strategic Weapon Systems, 30 April 2012, www.janes.com.; “Fateh A-110 variant (M-600),” Jane’s Strategic Weapon Systems, 27 April 2012, www.janes.com ; Dany Shoham, “Poisonded Missiles: Syria’s Doomsday Deterrent,” The Middle East Quarterly, Vol. IX, No. 4, Fall 2002, pp. 13-20 ; Anthony H. Cordesman, “Syrian Weapons of Mass Destruction: An Overview,” Center for Strategic & International Studies, 2 June 2008, www.csis.org.
[2] Andrew Tabler, “Inside the Syrian Missile Crisis,” Foreign Policy, 14 April 2010 ; Nuclear Threat Initiative, “Photos Show Hezbollah Has Missiles, Report Claims,” www.nti.org ; Amos Harel, “Syria still transferring supply of rockets, missiles to Hezbollah,” Haaretz, 13 August 2006, www.haaretz.com ; “An Inside Look at Hezbollah’s Iranian and Syrian Sponsored Arsenal,” The Israel Project, www.theisraelproject.org ; Gary C. Gambill, “Sponsoring Terrorism: Syria and Hamas,” Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, Vol 4. No. 10, October 2010.
[3] “R-17 (Scud B/C/D variants),” Jane’s Strategic Weapon Systems, 30 April 2012, www.janes.com.
[4] “R-17 (Scud B/C/D variants),” Jane’s Strategic Weapon Systems, 30 April 2012, www.janes.com.
[5] Dennis M. Gormley, Missile Contation: Cruise Missile Proliferation and the Threat to International Security, (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2008), p. 29 ; “R-17 (Scud B/C/D variants),” Jane’s Strategic Weapon Systems, 30 April 2012, www.janes.com.
[6] “Syrian Locally Upgraded SCUD-D Missile Tested,” Defense Update, www.defense-update.com ; Missile Threat, “Scud D variant,” The Claremont Institute, www.missilethreat.com ; “R-17 (Scud B/C/D variants),” Jane’s Strategic Weapon Systems, 30 April 2012, www.janes.com.
[7] “Weapons of Mass Destruction, Scud D,” Global Security, www.globalsecurity.org ; “Syrian Locally Upgraded SCUD-D Missile Tested,” Defense Update, www.defense-update.com ; Zeev Schiff, “Syria boosts accuracy of its Scud D missile,” Haaretz, 4 December 2005, www.haaretz.com.
[8] “Fateh A-110 variant (M-600),” Jane’s Strategic Weapon Systems, 27 April 2012, www.janes.com.
[9] Missile Threat, “M-9 variant,” The Claremont Institute, www.missilethreat.com.
[10] Anthony H. Cordesman, “Syrian Weapons of Mass Destruction: An Overview,” Center for Strategic & International Studies, 2 June 2008, www.csis.org.
[11] Wisconsin Project, “Syria Missile Development,” The Risk Report, Vol. 3, No. 2, March-April 1997, www.wisconsinproject.com.
[12] Kenneth Timmerman, Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Case of Iran, Syria, and Libya, (Los Angeles: Simon Wiesenthal Center, 1992), pp. 58-73.
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[14] Murhaf Jouejati, “The Strategic Culture of Irredentist Small Powers: The Case of Syria,” Prepared for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency Advanced Systems and Concepts Office, 31 October 2006.
[15] Anthony H. Cordesman, “Syrian Weapons of Mass Destruction: An Overview,” Center for Strategic & International Studies, 2 June 2008, www.csis.org.
[16] Magnus Normak, et al, “Syria and WMD Incentives and Capabilities,” FOI – Swedish Defense Research Agency, June 2004, p. 69, www2.foi.se.
[17] Magnus Normak, et al, “Syria and WMD Incentives and Capabilities,” FOI – Swedish Defense Research Agency, June 2004, p. 69, www2.foi.se.
[18] U.S. Department of State, “Treaty Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Elimination of Their Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles,” Defense Research Agency, June 2004 ; Magnus Normak, et al, “Syria and WMD Incentives and Capabilities,” FOI – Swedish Defense Research Agency, June 2004, p. 71, www2.foi.se.
[19] Magnus Normak, et al, “Syria and WMD Incentives and Capabilities,” FOI – Swedish Defense Research Agency, June 2004, p. 39, www2.foi.se. ; Missile Technology Control Regime, www.mtcr.info.
[20] Kenneth Timmerman, Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Case of Iran, Syria, and Libya, (Los Angeles: Simon Wiesenthal Center, 1992), p. 70.
[21] Joseph Cirincione, et at., Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Threats,(Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005,) p. 176.
[22] Nuclear Threat Initiative, “China’s Missile Exports and Assistance to Syria,” www.nti.org.
[23] Missile Threat, “M-11 variant,” The Claremont Institute, www.missilethreat.com.
[24] Angelo M. Codevilla, “Missiles, Defense and Israel,” The Threat of Ballistic Missiles in the Middle East, ed Arieh Stav (Portland: Sussex Academic Press, 2004,) p. 61 ; Anthony H. Cordesman, Arab-Israeli Military Forces in an Era of Asymmetric Wars, (Westport: Praeger Security International, 2006,) p. 363 ; Dany Shoham, “Poisonded Missiles: Syria’s Doomsday Deterrent,” The Middle East Quarterly, Vol. IX, No. 4, Fall 2002, pp. 13-20.
[25] Dany Shoham, “Poisonded Missiles: Syria’s Doomsday Deterrent,” The Middle East Quarterly,Vol. IX, No. 4, Fall 2002, pp. 13-20 ; Khalid Hilal and Leah Kuchinsky, “Israel Sees Growing Missile Threat from Syria,” WMD Insights, July/August 2007, Issue 17, , pp. 38-43, www.cns.miis.edu.
[26] Anthony H. Cordesman, “Syrian Weapons of Mass Destruction: An Overview,” Center for Strategic & International Studies, 2 June 2008, p. 14, www.csis.org.
[27] Robin Hughes, “Explosion Aborts CW Project Run by Iran and Syria,” Jane’s Defence Weekly,17 September 2007, www.janes.com.
[28] Magnus Normak, et al, “Syria and WMD Incentives and Capabilities,” FOI – Swedish Defense Research Agency, June 2004, p. 71, www2.foi.se.
[29] Greg J. Cerardi and James A. Plotts, “An Annotated Chronology of DPRK Missile Trade and Developments,” James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, www.cns.miis.edu ; Adel Darwish, “N. Korea ‘Selling Scuds’,” The Independent, 6 April 1991 ; Magnus Normak, et al, “Syria and WMD Incentives and Capabilities,” FOI – Swedish Defense Research Agency, June 2004, p. 71, www2.foi.se.
[30] Andrw Rathmell, “Syria’s Insecurity,” Jane’s Intelligence Review, 1 September 1994, www.janes.com.; Magnus Normak, et al, “Syria and WMD Incentives and Capabilities,” FOI – Swedish Defense Research Agency, June 2004, p. 71, www2.foi.se.
[31] Magnus Normak, et al, “Syria and WMD Incentives and Capabilities,” FOI – Swedish Defense Research Agency, June 2004, p. 71, www2.foi.se.
[32] “Syria Missile Milestones, 1972-2005,” The Risk Report, Vol. 11, No. 5, September-October 2005, www.wisonsinproject.org. ; Magnus Normak, et al, “Syria and WMD Incentives and Capabilities,” FOI – Swedish Defense Research Agency, June 2004, p. 71, www2.foi.se
[33] Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr., “A History of Ballistic Missile Development in the DPRK,” James Martin Center For Nonproliferation Studies, CNS Occasional Papers: #2, 1999, www.cns.miis.edu.
[34] Anthony H. Cordesman, Peace and War: The Arab-Israeli Military Balance Enters the 21st Century, (Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2002), p. 544.
[35] “Iskander E (SS-26 Sone),” www.defense-update.com ; Missile Threat, “SS-26,” The Claremont Institute, www.missilethreat.com
[36] Ed Blance, “Russia turns down Syrian missile request,” Jane’s Missiles & Rockets, 1 September 2008, www.janes.com. ; Yaakov Katz, “Russia tells Syria: No missile sales now,” Jerusalem Post, 23 November 2008, www.jpost.com.
[37] Ed Blance, “Russia turns down Syrian missile request,” Jane’s Missiles & Rockets, 1 September 2008, www.janes.com
[38] “Fateh A-110,” Jane’s Strategic Weapon Systems, 27 April 2010, www.janes.com.
[39] Alon Ben-David, “Bracing for a Barrage,” Aviation Week & Space Technology, 17 May 2010, www.lexisnexis.com.
[40] U.S. Department of Treasury, “Three Entities Targeted by Treasury for Supporting Syria’s WMD Proliferation,” 4 January 2007, www.ustreas.gov
[41] U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Verification, Compliance, and Implementation, “Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act: Imposed Sanctions,” 24 April 2009, www.state.gov.
[42] Yakkov Katz, “Israel: Russia may be selling Syria arms,” Jerusalem Post, 21 May 2008, www.jpost.com ; Khalid Hilal and Leah Kuchinsky, “Israel Sees Growing Missile Threat from Syria,”WMD Insights, July/August 2007, Issue 17, www.cns.miis.edu.
[43] Murhaf Jouejati, “The Strategic Culture of Irredentist Small Powers: The Case of Syria,” Prepared for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency Advanced Systems and Concepts Office, 31 October 2006.
[44] Murhaf Jouejati, “The Strategic Culture of Irredentist Small Powers: The Case of Syria,” Prepared for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency Advanced Systems and Concepts Office, 31 October 2006.