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Iran's Long Range Missile Program: A Tale of Two Reports

How advanced is Iran's missile program? If you read the Washington Free Beacon, you'd be stocking your bomb shelter:

Iran possesses the “largest number of ballistic missiles in the Middle East” and is secretly producing long-range missiles capable of carrying a nuclear payload, according to a nonpartisan report authored by Congress’ research arm.

Additionally, Tehran has developed “a genuine and ambitious space launch program, which seeks to enhance Iran’s … international reputation as a growing advanced industrial power,” according to a Dec. 6 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report investigating Iran’s increasingly sophisticated military capabilities.

It is suspected that Tehran’s space program “could mask” the development of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to targets across the region.

Yet if you clicked over to Reuters, you'd be a bit more reassured:

An internal report for the U.S. Congress has concluded that Iran probably is no longer on track, if it ever was, to having an ocean-crossing missile as soon as 2015. The study casts doubt on a view long held by U.S. intelligence agencies that Iran could be able to test-fly by 2015 an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, if it receives "sufficient foreign assistance."

"It is increasingly uncertain whether Iran will be able to achieve an ICBM capability by 2015," said the report by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, which works exclusively for lawmakers.

Iran does not appear to be receiving as much help as would likely be necessary, notably from China or Russia, to reach that goal, according to the 66-page report dated Thursday.

It is also increasingly tough for Tehran to obtain certain critical components and materials because of international sanctions related to its disputed nuclear program.

If you read all 66 pages of the report here (pdf) you'd come away with a very thorough understanding of the issue, with all its caveats (you might also cure that insomnia you've been battling).

One thing the report emphasizes is that ballistic missile trend reports rarely "materialize as expected" and predictions of steady or rapid progress toward such capability are rarely born out. Instead, it usually takes a state longer than expected to arrive at such capability. Even the five advanced nuclear weapons states with ICBMs have worked for decades to perfect the technology.