TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran has launched a submarine production line to ensure its forces are equipped to maintain security in the vital oil shipping route, the Strait of Hormuz waterway, the defence minister said on Monday.
Iran, embroiled in a standoff with the West over itsnuclear ambitions, has said it could respond to any militaryattack by closing the strait at the southern end of the Gulfthrough which about 40 percent of the world's traded oilpasses.
The United States, whose navy Fifth Fleet is based in theGulf state of Bahrain, has vowed to keep shipping lanes opened.
The West accuses Tehran of seeking to build nuclearwarheads but Iran, the world's fourth largest oil producer,insists its aim is to master technology to make electricity.Washington has not ruled out military action if diplomacy failsto end the row.
Iran's armed forces "have been the protector of thesecurity of the strategic Strait of Hormuz and regards thesecurity of this waterway as vital for itself and the countriesof the region," Defence Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said.
Najjar, whose remarks were carried by Iran's ISNA newsagency, was speaking at the inauguration of a submarineproduction line. The agency said it was for a "semi-heavy"class of submarine called Qaim but did not give details.
The agency said the submarine could "carry and fire variouskinds of torpedoes and subsurface missiles, as well astransport special operations personnel". He said Iran hadinvested in domestic production to meet its security aims alongits coast.
Iran's state-owned Press TV website quoted Iranian RearAdmiral Habibollah Sayyari last week saying a new submarineusing domestic technology had been added to Iran's fleet. Butthe report did not give details.
Military experts say Iran rarely reveals enough detailabout its new military equipment to determine its efficacy butsay the Islamic Republic, despite having much less fire-powerthan U.S. forces, could still cause havoc in Gulf if it waspushed.
In 2005, Iran said it had launched a production line formidget submarines that experts said would most likely be usedfor troop transport in amphibious operations.
The experts say Iran's navy has three Russian Kilo classsubmarines and other smaller submersibles, including the Qadir.Press TV said Iran also operated a submersible called theNahang, a word meaning whale.
(Writing by Edmund Blair, editing by Hashem Kalantari andMary Gabriel)