By M Rama Rao
Iran appears set for a massive show of its military might in the south-west of the country, close to the border with Iraq as much as a response to the Israeli bravado off the Gaza as to keep the US guessing of its intent. Officially, however, it is billed as a showcase of innovative military strategies and skills. As many as five divisions will take part in the maneuvers in a combat theater with rough terrain and will test new indigenous weapon systems.
New sniper rifles, helicopters, Unmanned Arial Vehicles, (UAVs), upgraded and refurbished tanks, laser guidance systems, utilizing laser systems, helicopters and Unmanned Arial Vehicles (UAVs) are amongst the weapons billed for tests in field conditions before induction. Already Iran has tested an array of missiles in ‘war’ like conditions.
The decision to hold the ‘drill’ as the exercises are officially called was announced by Iranian Army Commander Gen. Ahmad Reza Pourdastan in Tehran on Saturday, June 5.
Though he had set no date for massive military drill and merely stated that the ‘drill’ would be held in September, (some reports pushed the date to October), the timing of the announcement is significant.
It comes at a time tensions are running high after Israeli commandos attacked the Gaza-bound Freedom Flotilla – an international aid convoy on May 31. It is however in synch with the on-going efforts at fine tuning strategies and place the armed forces in a state of ever readiness to take on any US- Israeli adventure on its nuclear assets.
Over the past couple of months, army, air force and the navy have conducted a series ‘drills’ in on ground, air and sea. First to test various strategies. Second to test the level of coordination.
Interestingly, one of these exercises, a day and night affair, in central Isfahan region was code named Jerusalem. It saw a wide range of light and heavy equipment taking part in asymmetric warfare aimed at testing the state of preparedness to respond to various possible attacks. ‘In the past few years, Iran’s ground forces conducted a number of military exercises and mastered a variety of combat experience; this is however the largest-scale military exercise,’ Iran World News TV quoted Army Commanders as saying
In May, naval exercises in the Strait of Hormuz and northern Indian Ocean featured heavy submarines and they successfully test-fired home-made torpedoes at sub-surface targets. A month earlier, in the same area, a large-scale joint military exercise code-named ‘Great Prophet 5’ featured more than 300 vessels with torpedoes and guided missiles and warships.
The month of May saw the test firing of four hi-tech missiles (on May 10) using mobile launchers. These home made missiles called Fajr 5 belong to the Fajr-class missiles; they were not tested in any wargames before, according to Lieutenant Commander of the Iranian Army’s Ground Force General Kioumars Heidari. He characterized the tests as successful. ‘All the four missiles hit the targets with a record high precision’. They have a range of 50-60 kilometers and can evade radars as they fly at very low altitudes.
One of these, the mid-range surface to surface Nour missile was launched from the homemade Jamaran Destroyer. Two mid-range coast-to-sea cruise missiles were also test-fired and successfully hit their simulated targets as the Commander of the Iranian Army Major General Ataollah Salehi told reporters that the tests were a warning to ‘aggressors against any attack on Iranian ships’.
As a part of these war games with the code name, Vellayat 89, the army commandoes and Special Forces successfully tested shoulder-launched missiles in the Strait of Hormuz and northern Indian Ocean. Named ‘Misaq’, these home made missiles pulverized ‘enemy’ ‘targets’. The war game extended into the Sea of Oman to show case Iran’s mighty presence in the Persian Gulf, Oman Sea and Indian Ocean, Defense Minister Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi said in Tehran.
Iran’s indigenous weapon programme dates back to the eighties when it suddenly found external supplies drying up for military hardware as the country was locked in a war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Till then, the mainstay of Iranian forces was America made weapon systems and aircraft.
During the drill, Air Force F-4 fighter-bombers and Cobra choppers of the Airborne units targeted with precision a number of hypothetical enemy vessels which had infiltrated Iranian territories. Airborne choppers demonstrated heliborne operations and carried and transferred large numbers of troops and equipment.
Air force has also tested a series of newly updated air-to-surface missiles. The new missiles fired by Phantom fighters had hit and destroyed the targets successfully, according to Lieutenant Commander of the Iranian Air Force for Operations General Seyed Mohammad Alawi.
Experts at the self-sufficiency Jihad (department) of the Iranian Air Force changed the missiles’ range, fuel, and navigation systems, Alawi was quoted as saying.
Exact location for proposed September –October exercises is not made public as yet but it is clear from official comments that the war games would be held in Kh?zest?n (capital Ahwaz) province that borders Iraq’s Basra Province and the Persian Gulf, and the adjoining Kurds dominated Ilam province that suffered heavily during the long drawn Iran-Iraq war.
Ilam today sports the tag of most underdeveloped province of Iran, largely because its economic infrastructure collapsed under intense Iraqi bombing. Only in recent years, the state has begun to see fresh investments like Petrochemical facilities with Japanese help.
These exercises on the ground will see massive aerial maneuvers as the Iranian Air Force has plans to put to test a new set of advanced air-to-ground weaponry and gunnery equipment besides refurbished and upgraded Mirage F-1 fighters.
‘All Iranian aircraft and warplanes will take part including the F-4, F-5, F-7 and the Sukhoi SU-24 fighter jets’, says Deputy Air Force Commander, Mohsen Darrehbaghi. The Iranian Mirage F-1s are equipped with domestic air-to-ground weaponry, including advanced machine rifles and rocket launchers.
Darrehbaghi is brandishing these Mirages to silence the Israelis. ‘We have managed to rise to the challenge of those far stronger and bigger than Israel. If they dare assault us, they will be crushed by our response’, he told a gathering of women air force officials in Tehran early June. And referring to the commando attack on the Gaza-bound aid convoy, the commander said Israel is only capable of killing a few defenseless civilians. It lacks the guts to attack Tehran’.