Missile Farms

While Western Media was busy mocking Iran's 'fake aircraft carrier', the aftermath of the July exercise revealed something much more intriguing - a novel launch technique that IRGC-ASF Commander Amir Ali Hajizadeh aptly dubbed 'Missile Farms'.

Silos and Cities

Traditionally, Iran has had 2 main missile base layouts. Missile silos were used for its liquid-fueled MRBMs for many years now. These are a static and rather old technique, hence the most well-known image depicting a Shahab-3 instead of the later revisions of the design.

In 2015 Iran showed off 'missile cities'. These are enormous structures buried deep underground, which can not only launch missiles directly in launch chambers, but can also accommodate seemingly dozens of TELs and missile reloads. Presumably, there would be openings for TELs to leave through, so they can conduct more mobile launches. These missile cities combine secure storage, launching, and even possibly some kind of production into one heavily fortified package. They have mainly been seen used for Iran's prized strategic MRBM fleet. Iran's tactical class missiles have their own smaller versions of such facilities, with TELs hiding in bunkers sheltered in Iran's mountainous southern coast, ready to briefly drive out, launch, and get back inside.

Left: launch chamber. Top right and bottom right: Underground Dezful missile assembly

But for tactical class missiles, this presents some problems. Being effectively Iran's frontline forces, these missiles - mostly of the Fateh type - need to react quickly. While solid fuelled missiles provide an inherent advantage in this respect, they are still bottle-necked by certain factors.

First, crews must receive an order and move into action. In proactive actions (first-strike) this presents some issues - enemy satellites may spot increased activity at missile bases, which was proven when such reports appeared in US media (via "pentagon officials") before rounds of hostilities between Iran and the US in the past 18 months. However, in reactive (second-strike) scenarios the issue is even greater - crews must be able to commence operations quickly enough to effectively respond to the attack before their own or overall capability is degraded by the strike (especially if such a strike is targeted at command-and-control points, which is common for initial enemy action). 

Next, the actual process of driving a TEL into position, followed by proper erection and launch of the missile, and retreating back into the safety of the bunker is time-consuming, and exposes the TEL - and its valuable, trained crew - for destruction.

Even in smaller tactical applications, there is still a not insignificant expenditure required for this method. The missiles and their bulky TELs must all be stored in a fortified bunker. Each TEL also requires a well-trained crew, which must also be sheltered on-site (with appropriate barracks and supplies), not to mention the manpower investment required in manning every single TEL as well as the base.

Planting Missiles

'Missile Farms' do not suffer from these issues. When missiles are literally 'planted' into the ground in sealed containers, they can be launched in place. Without the need for TELs, no missile needs to be individually manned. No additional space needs to be allocated for storing trucks, or accommodating crews. Planted missiles rely on small footprint (just an opening) and camouflage to survive, rather than large, expensive, and sometimes indiscreet bunkers. GPS-jamming could degrade the ability of standoff weapons to hit the target, whereas bunkers are large enough in these circumstances, or even for other sensors to be used (IIR, MMW). Most importantly with no crews and no TELs, there is virtually no delay. The only human component would be a base commander pressing a button in his own bunker. This results in instantaneous launch, free of optical (though not electronic) surveillance once the launch order has been passed down from higher military command - or even carried out independently if fitting parameters.

Diagram of possible basic layout of the missile farm concept

This is a one-use tactic - once a missile farm expends its load, the location is unlikely to be used again as launches would be detected by satellites and radars, giving away the base's location. However, Iran's vastness allows for many suitable locations, and in any case Iran's deterrence strategy relies upon an initial alpha strike with ballistic missiles to cripple the ability and will of an enemy to respond. Therefore, giving up such land is a worthwhile investment. In any case, 'expendable bases' may be an advantage for the front lines. Bunkers on Iran's coasts and islands would bear the brunt of enemy action and cannot hope to stay operational for long.

Of course, there are some minor disadvantages. Keeping such facilities safe from peering eyes and wandering civilians requires on-site security. This is provided at all Iranian military facilities, but fencing off an area and adding watch towers is somewhat conspicuous to enemy surveillance. But this can be mitigated by decoy targets and disguises, or highly remote basing that requires less security presence. If all else fails, it is still immensely difficult to accurately find and destroy a handful of buried missiles spread out in a wide area.


So what exactly did Iran plant in its farm?

Video released shows 2 launches, each possibly of a different missile type - one is a Fateh-type, and the other looks to be a previously unseen, finless SRBM. Although the appearance of lacking fins could just be due to optical distortion from the speed of launch.

A comparison of the finless (top) and Fateh-type (bottom) missiles used. Image via Twitter.

In a separate video, there was also launch footage from a large sealed canister. Generally, Iran has its missiles exposed on their TELs, as Iran's arid climate means they will not be particularly affected by weather and humidity. The canister launch seen in the video might be a test of the type used for burying the missile safely in the ground for long periods of time (much like a plant pot...) and launching it at any given moment. The proportions, size, and general appearance of the missile launched from this canister indicate it is either a Dezful or Zolfaqar ballistic missile, which have ranges of 1000 km and 700 km respectively. Depending on placement, such missiles can target all of the UAE and Qatar, as well as the entire Saudi eastern coastline (including oil facilities). Riyadh is within reach.

It may be worth noting that the missile launch from this canister looks noticeably faster than similar Fateh-class missiles. 


Iran's new missile farms are an interesting approach to countering threats that may try to erode Iran's deterrent. By eliminating the need for TELs to move into position, missile farms prevent surprise attacks from being detected prior to launch. They also substantially reduce reaction times and costs of SRBMs. These improvements make Iran's regional deterrent more robust, timely, and less vulnerable to attrition.