Tehran — Iran has developed a hypersonic missile capable of penetrating all defense systems, General Amirali Hajizadeh, the commander of its Revolutionary Guards aerospace unit, claimed on Thursday.
Hypersonic missiles, like traditional ballistic missiles which can deliver nuclear weapons, can fly more than five times the speed of sound.
“This hypersonic ballistic missile was developed to counter air defense shields,” Hajizadeh said, quoted by Iran’s Fars news agency. “It will be able to breach all the systems of anti-missile defense.”
The general said he believed it would be decades before a system capable of intercepting the missile was developed, declaring it “a great generational leap in the field of missiles.”
What is a hypersonic missile?
In addition to much higher velocities, hypersonic missiles are also maneuverable, making them harder to track and defend against than conventional missiles.
While countries like the United States have developed systems designed to defend against cruise and ballistic missiles, the ability to track and take down a hypersonic missile remains a question.
Unlike ballistic missiles, hypersonic missiles fly on a trajectory low in the atmosphere, potentially reaching targets more quickly.
North Korea’s test of a hypersonic missile last year sparked concerns about a race to acquire the technology.
Russia currently leads the race to develop the missiles, followed by China and the United States. Moscow even claimed in March to have used a hypersonic missile in Ukraine in what would have been the first use of the weapon type in battle, but the U.S. never confirmed it was used.
Both Iran and Russia are targeted by stringent sanctions — Iran after the U.S. unilaterally pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers, and Russia since it invaded Ukraine in February.
The two countries have responded to the sanctions by boosting cooperation in key areas to help prop up their economies.
Iran advances amid diplomatic standoff
The announcement of the purported hypersonic missile came after Iran admitted on Saturday that it had sent drones to Russia, but said it had done so before the Ukraine war.
The Washington Post reported on October 16 that Iran was preparing to ship missiles to Russia, but Tehran rejected the report as “completely false.”
The claim also came against a backdrop of stalled talks on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal. The agreement reached with six major powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the U.S. — gave Iran relief from sanctions in return for guarantees it could not develop an atomic weapon.
Iran has always denied wanting a nuclear arsenal, but in July it claimed to have developed “the technical ability to build a nuclear bomb.”
Addressing Iran’s claim Thursday on the sidelines of the COP27 climate summit in Egypt, Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Tehran’s “announcements increase the attention, increase the concerns, increase the public attention to the Iranian nuclear program.”
The nuclear deal collapsed after the unilateral withdrawal of the United States in 2018 under then president Donald Trump.
It also follows Iran’s announcement on November 5 of the successful test flight of a rocket capable of propelling satellites into space.
The United States has repeatedly voiced concern that such launches could boost Iran’s ballistic missile technology, extending to the potential delivery of nuclear warheads.
In March, the U.S. government imposed sanctions on Iran’s missile-related activities in response to “Iran’s recent missile attack on Erbil, Iraq, as well as missile attacks by Iranian proxies against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.”
“These attacks are a reminder that Iran’s development and proliferation of ballistic missiles pose a serious threat to regional and international security,” the U.S. government said.