TEHRAN, April 14 (UPI) -- A senior Iranian military official warned that Tehran's newly produced unmanned aerial vehicles were capable of both striking hostile targets and gathering intelligence.
"We have made good advances and production is going on at suitable rate," ground forces commander Brig. Gen. Ahmad Reza Pourdastan told a news conference.
He said an unspecified number of the Iran-made drones would be displayed along with a fleet of new weapons, military equipment, jet fighters and advanced combat helicopters Sunday during the country's Army Day.
"The planes," Pourdastan said of the new drones, "would be used for operations as well as surveillance, which means that they can send us online footage from faraway distances and can also be armed for striking at targets."
He didn't elaborate but Iran's designs have already raised a critical eyebrow in Washington.
U.S. Secretary of State Robert Gates, specifically, warned last month that the new drones could "create difficulty" for the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan, expressing fear, also, that the aircraft could fall into the hands of terrorists.
Tehran launched an arms development program 30 years ago, in the wake of a U.S. weapons embargo. As of 1992, it has produced its own tanks, armored personnel carriers, missiles and fighter aircraft.
Iranian officials have long argued that the country's military and arms programs were intended for "defensive purposes" and "should not be perceived as a threat to any other country," the state-run Fars news agency reported.
Even so, news of the drones' strike and intelligence-gathering capacities, came a month after Israel rolled out a fleet of pilotless planes capable of flying within Iran's reach.
Israeli military officials have declined to disclose the size of the fleet or whether it was purposely designed for use against Iran.
The Israeli drone launch, however, came at a precarious moment, viewed also as a message for Tehran.
Israel worries about Iran because of Tehran's controversial nuclear program, missiles and repeated threats against the Jewish state. Officials in Israel have suggested that it could launch pre-emptive strikes against Iranian nuclear sites if it is shown that Tehran is developing nuclear weapons.
Iran has long spurned the allegation claiming its nuclear program is intended for peaceful purposes.
The Islamic Republic is shielded by a sophisticated ground-to-air missile system. The government recently accused the U.S. administration of trying to scupper a S-300 missile defense deal with Russia for fear that Iran may reverse engineer the system.
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