- The Washington Times - Monday, February 8, 2010

TEHRAN — Iran has launched two production lines to build unmanned aircraft with surveillance and attack capabilities, the defense minister announced Monday.

It also announced that Iran soon would deploy a missile air defense system more powerful than the advanced Russian S-300 system Tehran has ordered from Moscow in 2007 but has yet to receive.

The state television quoted the defense minister, Gen. Ahmad Vahidi, as saying the unmanned aircraft would be able to carry out surveillance as well as offensive tasks with high precision and a long range.

The two types of aircraft, or drones, are named Ra’d (thunder) and Nazir (herald), with the former possessing offensive capabilities.

Iran announced two years ago it had built an unmanned aircraft, but details were revealed only last year when Gen. Vahidi said it has a range of more than 600 miles, long enough to reach Israel. It was not clear whether Ra’d or Nazir has such a range.

Iran frequently makes announcements about the strides being made by its military industries, but it is virtually impossible to determine independently the actual capabilities or combat worthiness of the weapons Iran is producing.

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

Meanwhile, a senior air force commander, Gen. Heshmatollah Kasiri, told the official IRNA news agency Monday that Iran “soon” would deploy an air defense system with capabilities matching, or superior to, those of the Russian S-300 system.

He did not elaborate, but the S-300 missiles are capable of shooting down aircraft, cruise missiles and ballistic missile warheads at ranges of over 90 miles and at altitudes of about 90,000 feet.

Gen. Kasiri said Iran produces its entire air defense needs domestically, but he still criticized Russia for not delivering the S-300 missiles for “unacceptable reasons.”

Russia signed a 2007 contract to sell the S-300 missile system to Iran, but they have not been delivered yet. The delay has not been explained, but Israel and the United States have objected strongly to the deal.

The S-300 missiles would boost Iran’s air defense capability significantly at a time when Israel says it will not rule out taking military action against Iran’s nuclear sites. Israel and the West believe that Iran’s nuclear program is geared toward acquiring nuclear weapons. Iran denies the charge.

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