Tehran has the initiative to attack from the direction of its choosing—or several directions simultaneously—while confronting defenders with the Sisyphean task of providing 360-degree protection.
Major conflict looms in the Middle East, and Iran is already on track to win. Its September surprise attack on the Saudi oil facility at Abqaiq and the glaring lack of response is a microcosm of how Tehran is busy gaining the strategic upper hand over the United States and its allies.
Using swarms of new long-range precision munitions, Iran and its proxies can now credibly threaten to conduct disabling, and potentially catastrophic strikes against vital strategic targets across the region. This is a function of three factors: Iran’s upgraded weapons, regional expansion to encircle its enemies, and the lack of strategic depth possessed by these enemies.
Amazingly, Iran is building this leverage despite sanctions, antiquated conventional military forces, a small defense budget and no nuclear weapons. Instead, it is creating clear offensive advantages by increasing the precision and range of its ballistic and cruise missiles and drones.
Though they receive less attention than nuclear delivery vehicles, advancements in the range, lethality and accuracy of Iran’s conventional short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) are at least as worrisome. It is also producing anti-ship ballistic missiles with enhanced terminal guidance and maneuverability.
Cruise missiles are also overlooked even though they are arguably more important. Iran has increasingly precise land-attack cruise missiles like those that were used to damage Abqaiq and some can range the entire Middle East. And it is producing longer-range anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM) launchable from mobile land batteries or swarms of missile boats, which a recent Pentagon report called the “capital ships” of Iran’s Persian Gulf fleet. Iran is also developing submarine-launched ASCMs.
Drones—specifically unmanned aerial and naval surface vehicles—form the third leg of Tehran’s triad. Often called “the poor man’s precision munition,” Iran and its proxies use these in kamikaze-style attacks, with the vehicle often doubling as the warhead. Recently, Iran has improved these weapons’ accuracy, partly by reverse-engineering captured Western models.
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