TEHRAN, May 3 (UPI) -- The array of missiles fired during the Great Prophet 5 military exercises conducted by Iran's Revolutionary Guards in late April demonstrates how much the elite force's missile technology has advanced.
The 3-day annual war games in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, the only way in and out of the Gulf, were staged as the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps prepared to repel possible U.S. or Israeli attacks aimed at its nuclear installations.
The Iranian maneuvers were intended to "specifically highlight Iran's indigenous missile capability," the U.S. global security consultancy Stratfor noted.
The war games "show the extent to which Iran has expanded its capabilities by manufacturing its own weapons," analyst Nimas Adelkhah wrote in Terrorism Monitor. It is published by the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington think tank that monitors security affairs worldwide.
Given the shortcomings of the Islamic Republic's ground, air and naval forces, missiles have become Tehran's primary deterrent force against possible U.S. or Israeli attacks.
The missiles range from intermediate range ballistic missiles such as the Shehab-3B, currently the backbone of Iran's strategic rocket forces, to the Nasr-1 anti-ship system.
This year's Great Prophet maneuvers focused on the IRGC's naval forces, underlining Tehran's warning it would close the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow waterway through which some 40 percent of the world's oil supplies pass daily aboard tankers, if Iran is attacked.
Anti-ship missiles fired from coastal batteries, helicopters or warships would likely play a critical role in that operation, along with sea mines and attacks by swarms of heavily armed speedboats.
Blocking the U-shaped channel linking the Gulf to the Arabian Sea would also sever the U.S. maritime supply route to bases in Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait from the northern Arabian Sea.
Iran unveiled what it called a new air-defense system during the annual Army Day parade in Tehran April 19. Identified as the long-range S-200, the state-run media said it was capable of shooting down missiles and aircraft at high altitudes.
There has been no independent verification that such an Iranian system exists. Russia has repeatedly delayed the delivery of five batteries of its powerful S-300 air-defense system Tehran bought in 2007 in a $730 million deal.
Moscow has come under intense U.S. pressure not to deliver the S-300, which Iran wants to defend its nuclear infrastructure.
Iran says it will build its own such defenses. Western analysts doubt it can, despite the technological advances it has made, thus the claimed capabilities of the S-200 remain are viewed with some skepticism.
Even so, it has become clear that the IRGC, which controls much of Iran's military and aerospace industry, is moving toward the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles through its burgeoning space program.
Iran's drive to acquire military technology dates to the 1980-88 war with Iraq, when the fledgling Islamic republic was cut off from the global arms market by U.S.-led embargoes.
Tehran and other cities in western Iran were regularly bombarded by Iraqi missiles, mainly upgraded Soviet-era Scuds against which it had no effective response.
It was a lesson the Iranians never forgot and they have been assiduously pursuing advanced missile technology ever since to ensure they never find themselves in that situation again.
Iran's air force is in poor shape, in large part because those arms embargoes are still in place. Most of its aircraft are obsolete U.S. types inherited from the shah's regime, although there are some more capable MiG-29A interceptors and Sukhoi Su-25 strike jets.
The Iranians acquired ballistic missile technology from North Korea and the Soviet Union, later Russia, that was adapted to produce the Shehab-3B and the more advanced Sejjil-2, which has yet to go into production.
On March 7, Iran inaugurated a factory to mass produce Nasr-1 weapons, which are identical to China's C-704 system. Iran also produces advanced versions of the C-701 anti-ship missile, known as the Kosar, and the Noor, modeled on China's C-802.
China supplied Iran with C-801 and C-802 cruise missiles in the 1990s and these provided the technology for some of the missiles fired by the IRGC during the exercises in the Strait of Hormuz.
"The new generation of smart bombs and cruise missiles with short- and mid-range capabilities, such as the Sejjil, Qassed-1, Ghadr and Nasr-1, introduced a new phase in the IRGC's missile industry," Adelkhah noted.