- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 7, 2010

TEHRAN — Iran announced Sunday it has started a new production line of highly accurate short-range cruise missiles, which would add a new element to the country’s already imposing arsenal.

Gen. Ahmad Vahidi, Iran’s defense minister, told Iranian state TV that the cruise missile, called Nasr 1, would be capable of destroying targets up to 3,000 tons in size.

The minister said the missile can be fired from ground-based launchers as well as ships but eventually would be modified to be fired from helicopters and submarines.

Western powers already are concerned about Iran’s military capabilities, especially the implications of its nuclear program. The United States and some of its allies, as well as the International Atomic Energy Agency, fear Iran is trying to produce nuclear weapons, a charge Iran denies.

The West is considering stiffer sanctions against Tehran to try to force it to halt uranium enrichment, a process that has civilian uses but also can be used for nuclear arms if the uranium is enriched more than 90 percent.

Iran also boasts an array of short- and medium-range missiles capable of hitting targets in the region, including Israel, U.S. military bases in the region and much of Europe.

Tehran frequently makes announcements about new advances in military technology that cannot be verified independently.

Gen. Vahidi said the production of the cruise missiles, which took two years to develop, showed that sanctions on Iran have failed. He said the cruise missiles would strengthen Iran’s naval power.

Cruise missiles are highly advanced, usually subsonic rocket-powered weapons that can hug the ground and hit targets with great precision. The United States used large numbers of cruise missiles in its attack on Baghdad in 2002, launching most of them from warships in the Persian Gulf.

Iranian state TV showed a video of boxes in a warehouse containing several missiles. It also showed footage of Iran’s cruise missile test in 2007. That missile was apparently imported.

Tehran began a military self-sufficiency program in 1992, under which it produces a large range of weapons, including tanks, missiles, jet fighters, unmanned drone aircraft and torpedoes.