The Moghfather, Part III (or, Dial D for Deterrent)

Moghfather

The last year has been a busy one for Iran-watchers, and especially so the lead-up to November 24th - the long-awaited deadline for nuclear negotiations to wrap up between Iran and the West. That deadline came and went, of course, with the negotiations being extended for another seven months..

But with all of the frenzy in the days leading up to November 24th, you'd be forgiven for having missed the fact that November also marked the third anniversary of the death of Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam (شهید حسن تهرانی مقدم).

Moghaddam, an IRGC general and one of the most interesting characters in the Redline universe, was the head of a covert long-range missile development programme. He died in a spectacular explosion on November 12, 2011 at a missile propellant development site, most likely due to an industrial accident caused by carelessness and poor safety habits around extremely explosive solid fuel compounds.

Most of what we now know about Moghaddam and the secret long-range missile programme that he led we learned only after his death. And the best information about what he was doing was divulged only when those closest to him started eulogising.

Moghadam's brother, for example, said in a press interview a few days after the explosion that Hassan Tehrani's project was secretly aimed at building an ICBM, and was overseen directly by Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei. Wowsers! But the interview was swiftly withdrawn, and the brother said he had been misquoted - presumably after being visited by an unhappy member from the IRGC's security services. Oops.

It shouldn't come as a surprise, then, that the third anniversary of Moghaddam's martyrdom has encouraged another misty-eyed hagiographer to divulge even more sensitive information about what Moghaddam was doing before he died.

This new information comes from an engineer named Dr Fathollah Ommi,(دکتر فتح الله اُمّی) who on 12 November 2014 gave an audio interview that was broadcast on Iran's Soraya TV. Ommi, who's now a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Iran's Tarbiat Modares University (دانشگاه تربیت مدرس) and ostensibly a science adviser to President Rouhani, described himself as a "former colleague and close friend" of Moghaddam.

It's an interview that is startling in its level of detail. Ommi says that Moghaddam, prior to his death, had been working on a four-stage solid-propellant space launch vehicle designed to launch satellites to distances beyond 1,000 km - far higher than the capabilities of Iran's existing liquid-propellant Safir and Simorgh SLVs. The first stage of Moghaddam's SLV, Ommi says, was 3.5m in diameter and 20m in length. Ommi gives a name to Moghaddam's SLV project: Ghaem (قائم). And he says that Moghaddam was also pioneering a tricky form of rocket guidance called thrust vector control.

That was interesting enough. But what was even more jaw-dropping was the language that Ommi used to sum up Moghadam's missile project, which he says is now complete: Ghaem, he say, was “the top secret deterrent".

TOP SECRET DETERRENT?! Holy crap. I don't think you need me to tell you that you don't arm a top secret deterrent with a space cat.

Apart from Moghadam's errant brother, Iranian officials have generally shied away from linking Moghadam's work to the dreaded D-word, which is itself a virtual substitute for "nuclear weapon delivery system". Even IRGC head Mohammad Ali Jafari (محمد علی جعفری) said in late 2012 that Moghadam died during testing of a missile designed to put a satellite into space, not during testing of a frickin' nuclear-capable ICBM.

Explosive stuff, if you'll pardon the pun. And interestingly, the Iranian authorities haven't yet issued a denial of Ommi's statements. Nor has Ommi backtracked on what he said, parts of which have been published in state outlets Fars News and Mashregh.

There's been a surprising lack of fallout (ahem) so far from this interview - perhaps because it was given by someone who's fairly low down in the Iranian hierarchy. Still, though, the fanboys are excited. Check out this CAD-modelled artist's impression of the Ghaem missile that's doing the rounds on fan forums for Iran's missile programme. (Proving, if nothing else, that there truly is a place for everyone on the Internet.)

The Moghfather, it seems, just keeps on giving. Who knows what will be revealed on the fourth anniversary of his martyrdom? No doubt something wild: after all, you can't spell Moghadam without OMG...

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