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What is the purpose of Iran’s recent drone, air defense exercises? - analysis

The Jerusalem Post 1/2/2023 By SETH J. FRANTZMAN

 A missile is launched during an annual drill in the coastal area of the Gulf of Oman and near the Strait of Hormuz, Iran © (photo credit: REUTERS) A missile is launched during an annual drill in the coastal area of the Gulf of Oman and near the Strait of Hormuz, Iran

Iran completed the third day of its Zulfikar 1401 joint military exercise, during which it tested air-defense missiles, which it claimed destroyed an “aerial target.”

In photos released by Iran, Iranian military personnel appeared to be cheering the results. The overall perception of these drills is that, except for the use of drones to target a mock-up of a ship and a port, most are not particularly threatening. On Sunday, Iran made a mock-up of a port and a ship designed to look like Israeli targets, a clear message.

Also in the drill, Iran showed off submarines and helicopters. It claimed it had “annihilated underwater targets by firing advanced homegrown torpedoes during a large-scale war game underway in the country’s southeastern waters,” according to a report.

It also claimed to have a new torpedo called “Miad,” which was fired for the first time on the fourth day of the Zolfaqar 1401 drill. The Iranian Navy’s Tareq submarine fired the homegrown torpedo and “annihilated underwater targets.” During the drill, Iran claimed it had displayed its Fateh and Qadir submarines.

Iran also tested an anti-ship missile and even flew a drone out to sea to warn off the US or others from conducting surveillance of the drills, according to reports.

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Iran’s stagnating military power

And yet, a lot of these drills show how Iran’s military power is actually stagnating.

Iran used old American F-4E jets, which the regime inherited from the Shah in 1979, to carry missiles during the drills.

It’s surprising Iran is still able to fly these decades-old aircraft. Iran’s air force is composed of a lot of older aircraft like this, which is why it has to invest so heavily in new drones. It can’t acquire new airframes, although some reports suggest Russia may soon be a supplier.

Until that happens, Iran will be relying on these museum pieces to conduct its drills.

Where Iran does have modern technology is in its missile and drone programs, which allow it to strike at adversaries far from home. However, are these strategic weapons, or are they mostly developed to present a kind of “threat” rather than to win a war?

Iran’s drills constantly reinforce the perception that it can carry out strikes, but it cannot wage wars. It can attack ships, as it has done in the Gulf of Oman, and it can use drones to strike targets, but these are all limited precision attacks.

Iran’s recent drills appear to showcase, once again, Iranian armed forces that are more of a force on paper than a real combined joint force that can project its power.

Iran’s real power comes from its proxies, such as Hezbollah and the Houthis. Its power is rooted in people – irregular forces and terrorist groups such as Hamas, which it backs.

It has added drones to this power, and also missiles, while also enriching uranium. But none of this adds up to the kind of force it claims to put on display in these drills.

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