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Iran's army drill to test new air defence system

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TEHRAN (AP): Iran's military is to test a new air defence system modelled after the US Hawk system as tensions with the West escalate over the country's suspect nuclear programme, the Iranian state TV reported on Monday.

The report quoted Gen. Farad Emili, chief of Iran's air defence headquarters, as saying the surface-to-air system has been named "Mer sad," or Ambush. The system is capable of locking a flying object at a distance of 80 km and can hit from 45 km away, using an Iranian-made missile dubbed Shah in, or Hawk, according to the report.

The TV said Mer sad will be tested during the military exercises that started last weekend. Billed as "massive", the week-long drill is also to include Iranian jet fighters, drones and about 8,000 troops, spanning over nearly the entire eastern half of Iran.

The drill is meant to upgrade Iranian capabilities amid rising tensions between Iran and the West over Terran's enrichment programme, which can be a pathway to nuclear arms.

United States and its allies fear the programme masks Terran's ambitions to obtain a nuclear weapon. Iran denies the claim, insisting the nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes only.

The ongoing military drill is also expected to test Iran's S-200 air defence system, which was first displayed in September. The S-200 is a Russian-made, medium to high altitude surface-to-air missile system designed primarily to track, target, and destroy aircraft and cruise missiles.

As part of the military manoeuvres, Iran on Monday unveiled its first hovercraft vessel, dubbed "Tinder," or Thunder, capable of launching missiles and surveillance drones, the report said.

Defence Minister Gen. Ahmad Valid told reporters during the inauguration of the amphibious assault ship that Iran now has joined a group of five other countries with the know-how for hovercraft production.

Iran regularly holds military exercises aimed at boosting its defence capabilities and testing new equipment. Tehran also occasionally announces additions to its arsenal, holds inauguration ceremonies, starts up new production lines and test-fires new missiles.

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