Iranian Drone Warfare Takes off Alarmingly in Syria, Yemen and Lebanon
Iran is heavily touting its military UAV industry as “among the top drone manufactures and designers in the world. One official in Tehran bragged that Russia was eager for cooperation in this branch of manufacture, “but will not be granted all its requests.”
Russian eagerness is explained by DEBKA Weekly.
In December 2011, an electronic attack forced a top-secret American RQ-170 Sentinel reconnaissance drone, flying over the Afghan-Iranian border, to land almost intact inside Iran
(Shortly after this incident, DEBKA Weekly revealed that the ambush of the much-coveted US drone was in fact engineered by Chinese electronic warfare experts.)
Five years later, the Revolutionary Guards Corps exhibited a homemade attack drone, dubbed Saegheh (Thunderbolt), claiming it was a replica of the sophisticated American UAV Sentinel, which Iranian industry had achieved in several years of reverse engineering.
A chance to lay hands on the American Sentinel’s secrets appears to have prompted Russian interest in close cooperation with Tehran in the development of advanced unmanned aerial vehicles. Tehran, for its part, eyes ruble funding for the project, while averse to sharing those secrets.
UAV’s are growing into a mainstay of Iran’s aggressive and defensive postures.
A series of video tapes released this week by Iranian media displayed for the first time the functioning of its Khatam al-Anbia (Seal of the Prophets) Air Defense high command. This base, commanded by Brig. Gen. Farzad Esmail, controls all of Iran’s land-based air defense systems. It also holds most of the Islamic Republic’s drone fleet.
Another part is located at a second air defense base, located near the southern city of Abadeh. It houses seven battalions, some 6,000 military personnel and a substantial number of drones.
In 2010, Iran unveiled its first homemade drone bomber, Karrar, with a range of 1,000km and the capacity to deliver two 250-pound bombs or a single 500-pound precision bomb.
But since laying hands on the top-notch American spy drone a year later, Iranian drone development took off in earnest. It has branched out over the years into a whole range of UAV models for a variety of tasks, such as the Saegheh, the Ababil, the Fotros, the Hazem, the Mohajer, the Sarir, Shahed 129 (“Witness”) and Yasir.
Little is known about their capabilities. However, we do know that Fotros can fly at an altitude of 15,000 feet for 16-30 hours, while Mohajer can reach a distance of 3,000km. Ababils have been sighted over Lebanon.
More information is bound to spill out with their exposure as an increasingly important feature of Iran’s military expansion into regional wars.
DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources have spotted their conspicuous presence in the Syrian and Yemen war arenas, where the Revolutionary Guards are deploying long-range Shahed 129 drones carrying Sadid-1 rockets. UAVs were also used last year to sow mines in the Bab al-Mandeb Straits, a strategic Red Sea waterway, and are a key component of Hizballah’s war chest.
In Syria, Iran deploys armed drones – not just to attack Syrian and ISIS targets, but also to shadow American and Russian military movements.
Although the Iranian and Russian military in Syria are purportedly in full sync, Iran’s drones conduct autonomous operations to spy – or even steal a march – on its ally, to guard against surprises.
In June, the US Army shot down an armed, Iranian-made drone in southeastern Syria.
Tehran for its part aired images of a drone conducting a direct missile hit against Islamic State targets in Syria.
Iran recently armed some of the Hizballah units fighting with Bashar Assad’s army in Syria with deadly UAVs. But while Iran has allowed some of its UAVs to see the light of day, its most secret and lethal types are presumed to be tucked away in hidden, subterranean hangars in Mt. Lebanon, especially the assault UAVs which are armed with missiles or packed with explosives.
This clandestine drone arsenal stands at the disposal of Hizballah for use against Israel’s Defense Forces (IDF) in the event of a war.
Our military sources add: The current 10-day IDF military exercise for simulating a Hizballah invasion and attack on Israel focuses heavily on strengthening defenses against the hundreds of enemy drones, which are expected to rain down on Israeli targets. Some will be drawn from Hizballah’s hideouts in Lebanon, but they may also be eked out by the UAV stocks serving its forces in Syria.