(photo credit: Associated Press)
TEHERAN, Iran — 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 would soon deploy a missile air defense system more powerful than the advanced Russian S-300 system Teheran has ordered from Moscow in 2007 but has yet to receive.
The state television quoted 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.Ahmadinejad: Iran will enrich uranium to 20%
Iran announced two years ago it had built an unmanned aircraft, but details were only revealed last year when Vahidi said it has a range of more than 600 miles (1,000 kilometers), 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, however, it is virtually impossible to independently determine the actual capabilities or combat worthiness of the weapons Iran is producing.
On Monday a senior Iranian envoy said he has formally told the UN nuclear agency that his country will enrich uranium to higher levels.
Ali Asghar Soltanieh said Teheran will start enriching up to 20 percent from its present stock of lower enriched uranium.
Soltanieh is Iran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency. He told the AP Monday that the production is meant for fuel for Iran's research reactor, which produces medical isotopes. World powers fear higher enrichment could ease the way for the production of nuclear weapons.
Iran has ignored five UN Security Council resolutions that it freeze its enrichment program.
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 would "soon" 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 (145 kilometers) and at altitudes of about 90,000 feet.
Gen. Kasiri said Iran produces its entire air defense needs domestically, but 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 strongly objected to the deal.
The S-300 missiles would significantly boost Iran's air defense capability 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.