Iran says it tested new air defense missile system

AFP – November 18, 2010

Iran has successfully tested a newly developed air defense missile system during the country’s biggest ever air defense drill, the country’s military announced Thursday.

Iran’s state television said the test was Tehran’s response to Moscow’s refusal to deliver the advanced Russian S-300 air defense system amid U.N. and international sanctions on the country.

Gen. Hamid Arjangi, a spokesman for the five-day exercise, said the system — known as Mersad, or Ambush in Farsi — and Shahin, or Hawk, were developed by Iranian scientists and is capable of identifying and hitting targets at low and medium altitudes.

“This medium-range air defense system can identify and destroy modern planes flying at low or at medium altitudes,” Arjangi said, according to the state IRNA news agency.

He described the Mersad, which allegedly is already being mass produced, as a valuable asset in defending Iran’s air space from planes or drones flying at those altitudes.

State television said the locally developed missiles were similar to the anti-aircraft missile system that Russia has refused to deliver, citing the latest round of U.N. sanctions imposed in response to Tehran’s nuclear program.

“The Iranian-made missile system is an upgraded version of the anti-aircraft Russian S-200 missile system and has the same capability as that of the Russian S-300 missile,” the television reported.

Iran was angered by Russia’s action and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has accused Moscow of caving in to “Satan.”

Iran has said the 2007 contract for the S-300s remains valid and warned that Russia must pay compensation and penalties for unilaterally canceling the deal.

The Russian defense system is capable of shooting down aircraft and missiles at ranges of over 90 miles (144 kilometers) and at altitudes of about 90,000 feet (27,430 meters). Israel and the United States had objected to the deal.

The exercise, which started Tuesday, is meant to showcase Iran’s capabilities in defending its nuclear facilities from possible attack.

Iran conducts several war games every year, as part of its military self-sufficiency program that started in 1992, and frequently unveils new weapons and military systems during the drills. Its claims of their effectiveness cannot be independently verified.

When Iran’s Defense Ministry announced Mersad’s development in April, it said the system will be used to launch Shahin missiles, a local version of the 1970s-era U.S.-manufactured Hawk missile. The Hawk has a range 15 miles (24 kilometers) with a 119-pound warhead and was sold to Iran before the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Iran has been looking to upgrade its air defenses, especially as Israel has refused to rule out an airstrike over concerns by the United States and its European allies that Tehran is developing nuclear weapons.

Iran denies the charge and insists the program is only for peaceful purposes. It has also said Israel would face a “devastating retaliation” if it attacked the Islamic Republic.

On Wednesday, IRNA quoted Arjangi as saying that unidentified foreign planes had violated Iran’s airspace six times but that the intruders were intercepted and forced back by Iranian jets.

However, the Iranian state-run English-language Press TV later said the incident was a mock intrusion that was part of the drill and not a real violation of Iranian air space, and accused Western media of distorting reports on the exercise.

There was no way to confirm either of the reports, and Arjangi could not be reached for comment.

A spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, based just across the Persian Gulf in the island kingdom of Bahrain, said he had no information on the purported airspace intrusion.

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