The Iranian rocket that carried a military satellite into space is an immediate concern for the U.S. military because of its implications for the regime's plans to develop long-range missiles, Air Force Gen. John Hyten said Wednesday.
The U.S. has long suspected that Iran's efforts to put satellites into orbit are a cover for development of an intercontinental ballistic missile, and those suspicions were reinforced by Iran's launch Tuesday of what it called a "Noor," or "Light," satellite into low Earth orbit, powered by a three-stage rocket.
"We watch every rocket and missile that comes off the face of the Earth, and we track it and characterize it very precisely," Hyten, the former head of U.S. Strategic Command, said at a Pentagon briefing.
"We did that with the most recent Iranian launch. I won't tell you exactly what the intelligence says [about the rocket], but what I can tell you is it went a very long way," Hyten said. "And if you have a missile that goes a very long way, whether it works or not or puts a satellite in space or not, it went a very long way."
The apparent advancement in long-range missile technology suggests that Iran "has the ability to threaten our neighbors and allies, and we want to make sure they can never threaten the United States," he said.
Hyten said it is unclear whether the satellite had achieved orbit and is in working order, but Iranian state TV showed the launch and said that ground bases were receiving signals from the satellite circling Earth every 90 minutes.
The launch was the first by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, to put a satellite into orbit, according to Iran's Tasnim news agency.
"Today, the world's powerful armies do not have a comprehensive defense plan without being in space, and achieving this superior technology that takes us into space and expands the realm of our abilities is a strategic achievement," said Gen. Hossein Salami, head of the IRGC, Tasnim reported.
Salami succeeded Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in a Jan. 3 U.S. drone strike at Baghdad's international airport.
The IRGC operates its own military apart from Iran's regular armed forces, and is answerable only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo charged that the Iranian satellite launch was in violation of a United Nations Security Council resolution intended to limit Iran's ballistic missile development.
"Every nation has an obligation to go to the United Nations and evaluate whether this missile launch was consistent with that Security Council resolution," Pompeo told State Department reporters. "I don't think it remotely is, and I think Iran needs to be held accountable for what they have done."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.