The missiles attack on Al Assad drove home a point about certain operational advantages Iran has in this theater, using its homeland as a base. Reporting on the missile attack is murky, but details are emerging. Commercial company Planet Labs, Inc. took aerial photos and shared them with NPR via the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California.
The following photo shows hangars and buildings hit by Iranian missiles that were fired early Wednesday morning local time. The second hit (on the left) shows seven helicopters on the tarmac just to the right of a hit structure.
A U.S. official confirmed to NPR that 10 missiles struck Ain al-Assad. One hit the base in Irbil, and four missiles apparently fell short.
“Overall, I think it’s a relatively modest response,” says Tom Karako, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic & International Studies.
Karako believes the strike deliberately avoided areas that house personnel. Given the apparent precision of the missiles used, “if they wanted a bunch of causalities, they could have done something different,” he said.
Although Trump decided to call this as “Iran standing down,” analysts on both sides can work the calculus of this test run. I have been suggesting that Iran’s cheaper technology is quite effective and an advantage near their “home court.”
The Iranians used a third- or fourth-generation Fateh 110, which was generally given a range of 300 km. But the Al Assad base is 370 km from the border, so it seems the Iranians squeezed out some extra range. The fourth generation Fateh 100 carries a 650 kg warhead. Iran certainly has missiles with more punch. The Quim 1 is essentially a similar missile.
Iran showed that it can put most of Iraq in range of these low-cost missiles should it become a battleground. The Al Assad base is large and target-rich.
Leaked pictures taken by a Puerto Rican soldier of the damage to the Al-Asad US airbase in Iraq, after being hit by Iranian missiles.
— Ian56 (@Ian56789) January 9, 2020
Meanwhile, Russia offered Iraq its state-of-the-art S-400 air defense to defend its air space.
Besides the added range, the accuracy looks impressive.
“Some of the locations struck look like the missiles hit dead center,” said David Schmerler, an analyst with the Middlebury Institute.
Numbers and production information relating to the Fateh 110 are currently uncertain, yet Iranian media sources claim that facilities have been created to mass produce the weapon.
Michael Elleman, director of the Nonproliferation and Nuclear Policy Programme at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, estimates that Iran has numbers “in the high hundreds” of the Fateh-110.
Our takeaway is that this night demonstration is hardly a dud and will give Americans some pause. It shows this key base at Al Assad will be vulnerable. If one night Iran threw a hundred of these missiles up and aimed them at personnel, things could get ugly fast.
Observers are asking “where was the Patriot defense missile?” The problem is economic. The cost of each missile is $2.75 million. A Rand study estimated that a Patriot will need three rounds to take down basic short-range ballistic missiles like the Fateh-110. That’s 30 times more than the cost of Fateh. Iran would hope the Patriot is wasted on Fatehs and Quims, and they would gladly run that kind of cost-benefit math all over the region.
“For the time being, the Americans have been given a slap, revenge is a different issue,” Iran’s Fars News Agency quotes Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as saying Wednesday. “Military moves like this are not enough. The Americans’ corruption-stirring presence will come to an end.”
Winter Watch Takeaway
U.S. vulnerability at Al Assad has now been well demonstrated. If anything — especially as more sanctions are being slapped on — the War Party in Iran will be emboldened to run with their advantages and do so well before more American troops and aircraft build up in the theater.