Iranian navy starts war games in the Gulf: TV

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran’s navy started more than a week of war games in the Gulf on Thursday using tactical submarines and small vessels carrying missile launchers, state television reported.

The exercises are the latest in a series of maneuvers staged by Iran’s military in the Gulf, where the United States has deployed a second aircraft carrier, a move widely seen as a warning to Tehran over its nuclear ambitions.

State television said the war games staged by Iran’s regular naval forces “showed their defensive power for protecting the Persian Gulf”.

It said the maneuvers would last until March 30.

“The aim of these war games is to prepare to confront any kind of threat (and to) increase combat capabilities ... ,” Naval Commander Sajjad Kouchaki told state radio.

He said the maneuvers were taking place along all of Iran’s Gulf coast, from its north to Sea of Oman.

Military experts have viewed such exercises as a show of force in the strategic waterway through which 40 percent of the world’s traded oil is shipped and say they are aimed to deter any possible U.S. attack on the Islamic Republic.

Washington, which accuses Tehran of seeking to build atomic bombs, has said it wants a diplomatic solution to the nuclear row but has not ruled out the use of force if that fails.

Iran, which insists its atomic plans are peaceful, has warned that it would target U.S. interests in the region if it came under attack.

The latest war games involved small vessels with missile launchers and tactical submarines, state television said, adding that the exercises involved Iranian-made equipment.

In previous maneuvers, Iran has tested what it called advanced home-made missile systems and other weaponry.

Military experts say Iran rarely gives enough details to indicate the precise capabilities of equipment put on show. They say some of Iran’s new weaponry, such as missiles, are often modified versions of imported equipment.

Although Iran may not have the technology to match that of U.S. forces, experts say it could still cause trouble for shipping in the Gulf and disrupt crude flows, if it wanted.

Alongside the regular military, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have also staged war games in the Gulf in recent months. The Guards are the ideological force of the Islamic Republic and have a separate command structure to the regular army.