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Iran seeking longer-range strike force: Jane's

AFP | February 1, 2007

Iran is working to increase the strike range of its air force to deliver "more powerful strategic weapons systems," including through cooperation with Syria, Jane's Defence Weekly reported Thursday.
Citing Western defence sources, the Jane's military information group publication also said Tehran was seeking ways of delivering nuclear payloads other than by missiles.

The weekly said the Islamic republic had been conducting night-time refueling exercises and has increased training of pilots for long-range missions, which it implies could involve a target in the Mediterranean.

"Iran is pursuing a longer-range strike capability for its air assets to support the delivery of more powerful strategic weapons systems," the weekly said.

Tehran "is investing considerable resources in generating enhanced operational aerial refuelling capabilities to support strike assets capable of delivering such systems," notably involving the Sukhoi Su-24MK strike aircraft, it added.

Refuelling exercises have been conducted over Syria, under a November 2005 agreement granting Iran access to Syrian air space.

"A clause in the agreement provides for Syria to serve as a 'rear base for Iran' where 'Damascus will allow (Iranian) aircraft, returning from a mission (the implication being a target in the Mediterranean) to land at a Syrian air force base in case of emergency,'" it said.

Iran is currently locked in a standoff with the West over its nuclear intentions, with Washington accusing Tehran of seeking to build nuclear weapons under the guise of a civilian atomic programme.

The Jane's report said the longer-range capability being developed by Iran could, in theory, be used to deliver nuclear weapons.

"While there is scant information with regard to the specific weapons to be delivered, the sources noted that Tehran had accelerated its exploration of alternative means to deliver a nuclear payload" other than by its land-launched Shahab ballistic missile programme, it said.

But Jane's also cautioned that Iran may be just exaggerating its capabilities as a deterrent to potential Western attack, noting that it had done so in the past.

"Whether Iran can develop a long-range strike capability to the degree that it presents a credible and potent strategic threat to those regional actors likely to be the recipient of such an attack is a moot point.

"The question remains how committed Iran is to the development of such a capability or if it is just another tactic designed to deter potential aggression and reinforce its image as a growing regional power," it said.


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