Thursday, Oct 16, 2008
DEBKAfile’s military sources report that the drill beginning Thursday, Oct. 16 in northern Iran, is Tehran’s rejoinder to Israel’s big aerial maneuver last June.
Then, more than 100 Israeli fighter-bombers went through their paces over the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas, roughly the same distance from Israel as Iran.
Tehran’s media claim the exercise will test its air force’s ability to fly to Israel and back without refueling.
The exercise will also test the US-made FBX-T band anti-missile radar system delivered in September and installed at the IAF Nevatim air base in the Negev. The Iranians say they will be practicing their “state-of-the-art military equipment and flight tactics,” meaning an attempt to jam US and Israeli electronics and radar.
(Article continues below)
According to Iranian media, the entire range of Iran’s fighter fleet will take part, including US-made F-4, F-5, F-7 and F-14 fighters and domestic Saegheh fighters. Mid-air refueling will be provided by Boeing 707 aerial tankers.
In mid-August, Iran’s Air Force chief, Brigadier General Ahmad Miqani, maintained that its antiquated fighter jet fleet had been overhauled and upgraded to fly distances of 3,000 kilometers without refueling. That would be more than double the distance between Iran and Israel.
That is why Tabriz, in Azerbaijan, at the northwestern corner of Iran, was picked as the starting point of the exercise. The official communiqué said the planes would be flying from air fields in Tehran, Isfahan, Tabriz and Hamadan and Dezful.
Our military sources say that this means that the entire maneuver will take place over Iran and not venture out its air space. The planes will have to fly to Tabriz from bases in the south near the Pakistan border in order to replicate the more than 1,200 km distance between Iran and Israel.
The Iranian Air force also aims at deploying more than 100 warplanes for the exercise, matching the number Israel used in its maneuver four months ago.
Tehran has timed this large-scale drill for just three weeks before the US presidential election on Nov. 4, in response to speculation rife in the West that Israel may use the window between the US election and the swearing-in of the new president in January for an attack on Iran’s nuclear installations.
The Iranians aim to show they have a first and second strike capability – not just with ballistic missiles but also by aerial attack.