Iran Tirelessly Develops Its Air Power

The reconnaissance drone the Lebanese terrorist group Hizballah launched over Israeli airspace Monday, November 8 caused some red faces in the Israeli military. For 12 long minutes, the unmanned aircraft took photos of the northern Israeli town of Nahariya undetected by radar and other air defenses along the Mediterranean coast and Lebanese frontier.

There was also fallout between two of Israel’s enemies. The overflight sparked a diplomat incident between Syria, the main power broker in Lebanon, and Iran. The quarrel was sharp but not serious. The two countries have a commonality of interests and share a place on the US state department’s list of nations that sponsor terrorism. But Iran’s ambassador to Damascus, Mohammad Hassan Akhtari, was summoned to the Syrian foreign ministry to receive an official protest. Iran responded within an hour, saying that it was sending a senior Revolutionary Guards official to Damascus to explain everything.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources report that officers and engineers of the Revolutionary Guard’s “flying objects” program launched Mirsad-1. The Iranians not only built the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and launched it, but also set the time and place for what was to be a test under real field conditions.

In its complaint to Teheran, Syria made several key arguments that Iran will have to take into consideration.

Facing possible international sanctions over its military presence behind Iraq, Syria told Iran that its “act of provocation” could only hurt Syrian interests. Akhtari tried to play down Syria’s concerns, saying the world was fully preoccupied with the US battle for Fallujah and Yasser Arafat‘s demise. But still, Syria demanded a detailed explanation from Iran and a promise to abide by the existing understandings between the two countries and refrain from similar action in the future.


Heavy investment in UAV program


According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources, Iran has poured relatively heavy sums over the past decade into a UAV program. Under international sanctions, including a weapons embargo, since the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iran has had to carry out all of its UAV research and development alone and buy parts and technology on the black market.

In the early 1990s, the Iranians bought advanced remote-controlled model airplanes to study UAV technology. It was not an auspicious start: all of the tests conducted in the first three years of the program failed. But last year, Iran bought lightweight engines made in Japan, Germany and even the United States for its UAVs. It has built three types of drones and most were tested successfully, although the Mirsad-1 was the only one tested under field conditions.

The Mirsad-2 was built for naval photography. It has been tested twice, both times taking photographs of US warships in the Persian Gulf. The Americans shot at a slow-flying Iranian UAV- but missed. Iran’s third drone, whose name is unknown in the West, is to be used for long-range reconnaissance flights. It is not yet operational.

The development of a homegrown air industry is of great importance to Iran. UAV manufacture is only a small part of the program, which is overseen in its entirety by the Revolutionary Guards and focuses mainly on building ballistic missiles. The Shahab-3 is the best known. Iran has carried out three test launches over the past two months, although opinion is divided on whether they were successful.

Despite Iranian denials, the latest launch, in October, was actually a test of a Shahab-4 prototype. The Shahab-4 will have a maximum range of 5,000 kilometers (3,000 miles), enabling it to reach eastern and central Europe as well as southeastern parts of the continent. In the October launch, its estimated range was only 2,200 kilometers (1,300 miles), however.

Iranian territory is not large enough for longer trajectories and it does not have the equipment necessary to track the effectiveness of a missile fired toward the Indian Ocean. With those limitations in mind, Iran has been holding secret contacts with Pyongyang over the past several months on conducting a longer-range launch at a test range in North Korea.

Meanwhile, Iran intends to press ahead toward developing Shahab-8 that can reach the US East Coast.

Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the powerful former Iranian president, said proudly last month: “With our missiles we can reach beyond two thousand kilometers. Now we intend to conquer space and pursue the conquest of the oceans in the future.” Speaking at a “Space and National Security” conference, Rafsanjani disclosed that Iran shortly plans to join the club of eight nations that have launched a satellite into space.

Iran also has two other series of ballistic missiles in its arsenal, the Zelzal and the Fateh, with ranges between 70 kilometers (42 miles) and 300 kilometers (180 miles).

The Iranians have touted the Fateh-110, which can hit targets up to 250 kilometers (150 miles) away, as being particularly accurate. The Zelzal-3, for example, has a maximum range of 200 kilometers.

Iran also manufactures anti-aircraft missiles, the Mithagh (the Convention), with a maximum range of five kilometers (three miles), the Shahab-Thagheb (Meteor), with a range of 12 kilometers (seven miles) and the Sayyad (Hunter) and Toufan (Hurricane) missiles built in the 1980s.

In addition, Iran is developing several types of short, medium and long-range cruise missiles – the Nour Kovsar, with a 120-kilometer (70 miles) range and the Raad, with a range of 350 kilometers (210 miles).

Iran intends to upgrade its UAVs significantly. DEBKA-Net-Weekly has learned that Iranian agents operating in the United States recently tried to recruit engineers of Iranian origin working for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The CIA is aware of these contacts and the scientists were warned against going to parties or accepting invitations to any events where the guests include people with known or covert connections with the Iranian regime.

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