Iran this week conducted the first launch of a new rocket that the Pentagon views as a key element of Tehran’s effort to build long-range missiles. The launch of the Simorgh space launch vehicle on Tuesday was judged by U.S. intelligence agencies to be partly successful but did not reach orbit, said defense officials familiar with reports of the test. “It was either an unsuccessful launch, or a test of third stage” not meant to place a satellite in orbit, said a U.S. defense official familiar with reports of the test. No other details of the test launch could be learned. At the State Department, spokesman John Kirby said he could not confirm the missile launch. “Obviously we’re watching this as best we can,” Kirby said. “Certainly if it’s true and we’re talking about a ballistic missile launch or the testing of ballistic missile technologies, that’s obviously of concern to us. It’s not consistent, as we said before, with the Security Council resolution…” The large liquid-fueled rocket has been under close surveillance by U.S. satellites and other intelligence assets at a launch pad at Iran’s Semnan satellite launch center, located about 125 miles east of Tehran. The Simorgh launch had been anticipated since March and comes amid growing worries about Iran’s development of long-range missiles. Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) said he is concerned about the latest Iranian missile development. “An Iranian Simorgh space launch vehicle test would be a provocation of the highest order and shows Iran’s true intentions,” Cotton told the Washington Free Beacon. “The intelligence community has said publicly that this [space launch vehicle] technology would aid an Iranian [intercontinental ballistic missile] program. And the only reason one develops ICBMs is the delivery of nuclear weapons,” Cotton added. The Simorgh is believed to be based on North Korean missile technology, used extensively in Iran’s medium-range Shahab-3 missiles. U.S. intelligence agencies believe North Korea supplied Iran with design data, stage separation technology, and booster equipment for the Simorgh and other rockets. During negotiations on the Iran nuclear deal, U.S. intelligence agencies detected two shipments of large diameter rocket engines from North Korea to Iran. The Simorgh also is assessed as having enough lift to carry a nuclear warhead, a throw-weight greater than the 220-pound payload capacity claimed by Iranian officials. Senior U.S. military officials have voiced concerns about the Simorgh in recent congressional testimony and other public statements. Adm. Bill Gortney, commander of the U.S. Northern Command, told a House hearing last week that Iran is continuing development of long-range missiles. “Iran’s continuing pursuit of long-range missile capabilities and ballistic missile and space launch programs, in defiance of United Nations Security Council resolutions, remains a serious concern,” Gortney said in prepared testimony. “Iran has successfully orbited satellites using a first-generation space launch vehicle and announced plans to orbit a larger satellite using its ICBM-class booster as early as this year. In light of these advances, we assess Iran may be able to deploy an operational ICBM by 2020 if the regime choses to do so.” Air Force Lt. Gen. Jay Raymond, deputy chief of staff for operations, told reporters last month the Iranian space launcher is a “dual-use” system with applications for missiles. “The concerning part to me is that the rocket that they use, that launch satellite, could … [have] a dual-use purpose,” Raymond said March 24. “The ability to put a satellite into orbit is the same capability … as a harmful missile.”
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