Ukraine war: Iran now becomes a single-use drone power

Russia’s war in Ukraine is increasingly being fought with unmanned systems. Both sides are using so-called „loitering munitions“ originating from the US or Iran. A new Iranian drone clone could also soon be flying attacks.

Iran wants to export more attack drones to Russia for use in the war against Ukraine. The exact number of units is not known. However, the unmanned systems are said to be part of a package of 1,000 additional weapons, including short-range surface-to-surface missiles. This was reported by the US news magazine CNN. The delivery is to take place before the end of the year. Russia intends to use it to supplement its dwindling supply of small Lancet-3 attack drones.

Russian forces are using several variants of Iranian drones in Ukraine. For more than two months, the army has mainly been flying attacks with the Shahed-136, of which Russia is said to have already received a four-digit number. According to official figures, the most recent delivery of weapons from Iran alone is said to comprise about 450 units. Most recently, the drones have hit numerous energy infrastructures in Ukraine.

Russia’s denial is not credible

The Shahed-136 is a further development of the smaller Shahed-131, and the two models are difficult to distinguish even for experts. Its range is said to be up to 2,500 kilometres, which means it can be launched far away from the battlefield. The drone, which is guided to the target by GPS, is destroyed by the explosive device itself when attacked. That is why the Shahed-136 belongs to the so-called kamikaze drones.

Russia denies the import of Iranian drones until today, but this is not credible. Meanwhile, there are numerous photos of wreckage from the Shahed drones after successful attacks. The Ukrainian military has also fished a well-preserved specimen out of the sea after it was shot down. A fortnight ago, a Shahed could even be photographed during an attack directly before hitting Kiev. In the meantime, Russian arms companies are also said to be manufacturing the drone under licence, with the replica trading as Geran-2.

Now Iran could send even larger kamikaze drones to Russia. The Ukrainian Defence Ministry referred to this in a press release yesterday. According to it, the government in Tehran also wants to deliver the four-metre-long Arash-2.

Iran copies Switchblade drones

The single-use armed drones from Iran are, among other, Russia’s response to Ukraine’s use of the smaller Switchblade drones. They come from the US company Aerovision, and were brought to Ukraine as part of US military aid from May this year. The eye-catching flying machines with their folding tails are said to have inflicted heavy losses on the Russian occupiers and thus had a noticeable impact on the fighting.

Aerovision offers the model in 300- and 600-series versions. As „loitering munition“, the Switchblade can circle over a target for up to 40 minutes until a favourable moment for an attack arises. Only the 600 can penetrate armour, while the smaller model is portable and is used against so-called „soft targets“. In military parlance, this refers to soldiers in the field.

Meanwhile, Iran has copied and replicated the US Switchblades. The drones were presented to the public for the first time as the Meraj-521 during a manoeuvre in October. According to reports, they will soon be used by Russia in the war in Ukraine. So the Switchblade clones could be the new Iranian delivery that CNN is now reporting.

Drone defence equipment

Iran’s military industry now produces a whole range of different attack drones. The most important export model is currently the Mohajer-6, which Iran is reportedly already supplying to various countries. Known missions have taken place in Ethiopia, for example, and Kyrgyzstan, which is involved in fighting with its neighbour, and Venezuela are also said to be among the recipients.

Since the turn of the millennium, the USA and Israel have been the undisputed drone powers; in recent years, Turkey and China in particular have wobbled this dubious throne. Now Iran has joined this circle.

As the drone war in Ukraine intensifies, so does the need for defence systems. Various Western countries, including Germany, are supplying the government in Kiev with drone defence equipment. Ukraine claims to have already shot down more than 300 Iranian drones with these devices.

Intelligence on Iranian drone launch sites

Drone defence also includes passing intelligence to Ukraine on launch sites of Iranian drones in Russia. These are apparently located in Crimea, where Iran is said to have sent military personnel to support Russian troops. As is well known, this kind of intelligence information on Russian drone activities comes from the US foreign intelligence service. Now Israel, which has so far been reluctant to do so out of consideration for its relations with Moscow, is also helping, the New York Times recently reported.

The information about the new Iranian drone deliveries could also have come from one of the two countries. CNN claims to have received it from „officials“ of a Western country that is closely monitoring Iran’s weapons programme. In a video, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards now threaten to attack Israeli and US facilities in the Middle East with armed drones.

After the USA, the European Union has now also imposed sanctions on Iran’s drone industry. A few weeks after the first Iranian drones appeared in Ukraine, the US government had already put the Tehran-based company Safiran, which is said to have coordinated drone deliveries to Russia, on the sanctions list.

Bild: A Iranian Meraj-521 (@IranDefense/ Twitter).

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.

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