How Iranian Ballistic Missiles Could Impact Russia's War in Ukraine

Iran is reportedly set to step up its military support of the Russian military by supplying ballistic missiles to help its war effort in Ukraine, something that an expert has told Newsweek could overwhelm Ukrainian air defenses.

With Iranian-made Shahed-136 or "kamikaze" drones already swarming Ukrainian skies and hitting civilian targets, Kyiv has expressed alarm at the prospect of Tehran giving Russian forces surface-to-surface ballistic missiles, along with more unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Iran test fires a Fateh 110
This undated photo shows Iran's surface-to-surface Fateh 110 missile being tested. Tehran will reportedly supply ballistic missiles to Russia for use in the Ukraine war. Getty Images

CNN reported on Tuesday that Iran will send approximately 1,000 additional weapons most likely by the end of the year. This delivery will include drones and for the first time since the start of the war, advanced precision guided missiles.

In an appeal to Western allies for military aid, Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yurii Ihnat said his country had "no effective defense against these missiles," adding that "we have anti-air defense, but not anti-missile defense."

What type of missiles might Iran send?

Unnamed officials from a U.S.-allied country monitoring Iran's weapons activity told The Washington Post that Iranian officials had been sent to Moscow and struck the deal on September 18 for the weapons shipments.

The Post as well as Reuters, reported last month that among the supplies Tehran would provide Moscow would be the Fateh-110 and Zolfaghar missiles.

Russia has been hit hard by Ukrainian strikes from the U.S-supplied M142 HIMARS (M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System). The HIMARS' ability to launch weapons and move away at speed has made it very effective but its missile range is around 50 miles is much less than the Iranian missiles.

The Fateh-110 has a range of around 200 miles, can travel at up to 3,800 mph and hit targets with an accuracy of about 16 to 32 feet, according to Military Today.

The Zolfaghar missile, which is a variant of the Fateh-110 family, has a similar accuracy, and possesses a cluster munition warhead but has a longer range of up to 700 km, according to Missile Defense Advocacy.

How could this change Russia's campaign?

The U.S. has pledged to send Ukraine eight National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS) with two being deployed to the country soon. However, Iranian-supplied missiles would give Russia a significant boost in their invasion of Ukraine.

Marina Miron, a research fellow from the Defense Studies Department at King's College London (KCL) said that the benefits of the Fateh-110 "apart from being comparatively cheap, is the ability to camouflage and to launch them from anywhere,"

"So when in winter mobility becomes reduced, Russia will have more options to launch Iranian missiles without being detected and possibly targeted by the likes of HIMARs," she told Newsweek.

"That would give Russia some sort of parity and ability to replenish its stocks, use the cheaper Iranian missiles to overwhelm Ukraine's air defense systems and make sure that they can go through with targeting most military targets and critical civilian infrastructure."

Why is Iran helping out Russia?

Although it has denied supplying Russia with drones, Iran has emerged as Russia's most reliable wartime partner and it stands to gain economically and militarily if it provides Moscow with ballistic missiles.

"Iran can get their missiles battle-tested, and that's very important", said Miron. "It wants its missiles tested in real-world conditions because Iran is very concerned about neighboring Iraq and obviously Israel is another target.

"Israel has great air defenses, so they want to make sure that their missiles can penetrate the Iron Dome," she added.

Also, with Iran under western sanctions, the shipment of missiles to Russia can be a revenue generator. Meanwhile, Tehran is expected to sign in December an energy agreement with Russian gas giant Gazprom worth around $40 billion, further cementing ties.

"Geopolitically speaking this is a great deal for Iran," Miron added.