Since the July 2015 announcement of the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran has tested as many as 14 ballistic missiles. This number is based on aggregated open-source reporting, as no official government or United Nations numbers have been made available to the public. Although the deal did not address ballistic missiles – the likeliest delivery mechanisms for nuclear warheads – the UN Security Council resolution endorsing the deal called on Iran to refrain from testing nuclear-capable missiles. This memo explains how the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) has calculated the number of ballistic missiles Iran has fired and explains the policy implications of these tests.
The Challenge of Calculating the Number of Tests
While Iran has tested ballistic missiles on multiple occasions since July 2015, there does not appear to be a consensus in Washington, or in the international community, on how many it has tested, which platforms were tested, and when they were launched. The challenge derives from trying to navigate multiple conflicting sources, including reports by Western media outlets that rely on government officials, Persian-language open-source material, reports by non-governmental and international organizations, and congressional testimony.
The primary reason for this lack of clarity is apparent: The Obama administration provided little, if any, public information on Iranian ballistic missile launches in the post-deal environment. It responded with scant condemnations, and in one case, sanctions. Had the U.S. intelligence community, USSTRATCOM, or other combatant commands supported by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency or Department of Defense weighed in publically, the international community would know the answer to the question of how many ballistic missiles Iran has tested since July 2015.
Reported Missile Tests
FDD tracked the number of ballistic missiles reportedly launched since the JCPOA’s announcement rather than the number of missile drills – each of which may include launches of multiple missiles. We believe this is a more accurate way to determine Iran’s capabilities because each tested missile, whether a success or failure, provides Tehran with data it can use to further its conventional and unconventional military capabilities. Additionally, with a few exceptions noted below, we include every incident reported in Persian- and English-language media. We include ballistic missiles that meet and do not meet the Missile Technology Control Regime’s (MTCR) metric for “nuclear-capable” missiles. Indeed, missiles that fall short of the MTCR’s range threshold could still potentially serve as a delivery vehicle for a tactical nuclear weapon in the future.
We assess that Iran has tested up to 14 ballistic missiles since the JCPOA was announced in July 2015.