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Experts Doubt Iran's Missile Defense Claims

Weapons experts are skeptical of Iranian claims this week that it had produced an indigenous air-defense system equal in capability to a Russian weapon,Wired magazine reported yesterday (see GSN, Nov. 18).

An Iranian general asserted that the S-200 system -- developed by the former Soviet Union in the 1960s and later sold to Tehran -- had been upgraded to match the abilities of the three-decade-old S-300 system.

That 20-year technology development gap is too great for Iran to overcome, Globalsecurity.org Director John Pike said.

"It might happen sometime after the Hidden Imam returns from Occulation but not much before then," he said, referencing a Shiite belief that a legendary holy leader, the 12th Imam, would one day return to save humanity.

"The S-200 was designed to shoot down a big target that’s not maneuvering. The S-300 was designed to shoot down a small target that is maneuvering," Pike said. "About the only thing these two have in common is the S" (Adam Rawnsley, Wired, Nov. 18).

The S-300 system can shoot down ballistic and cruise missiles as well as aircraft from distances of 90 miles, the Christian Science Monitor reported.

In September, Russia announced it would cancel a contract to provide Iran with the system because the latest U.N. Security Council sanctions targeting the Gulf state's nuclear and missile programs prohibited the sale. Tehran asserts the system did not fall under the scope of the sanctions resolution.

"In terms of both of accuracy and distance, I would doubt very much whether Iran can produce anything nearing the ability of the S-300," London-based analyst Mark Fitzpatrick said.

"The S-300 is not just good because of its accuracy, but because of its reach," Fitzpatrick said. "It’s not so easy to reverse-engineer a sophisticated system like this, particularly since Iran doesn’t have an S-300 to reverse-engineer" (Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, Nov. 18).

During a series of military drills this week, Iranian officers said new radar facilities stationed across the country's boundaries were now online, the Los Angeles Times reported.

"The radar network acts as the watchful eyes of the air defense system in all the border areas of the country and in various locations, detecting the slightest movements within the skies of the Islamic Republic, accurately monitoring them all," Air Marshal Hamid Arzhangi said to the Fars News Agency.

The military also announced this week it had run trials on the Mersad medium-range air defense system, command and control communications technology and other systems.

The exercises were intended to bolster responses to an air attack, improve joint work between military units through the command and control network and determine areas of tactical concern, among other benefits, according to Iranian officers.

Iranian lawmaker Mahmoud Ahmadibigash said his government wanted to send a message to Israel and the United States "not to commit any stupidity because they will regret it forever" (Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, Nov. 19).

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