Russia reportedly seeking to procure Iran-made combat drones to fill a strategic gap exposed in the Ukraine war.
Russia is a Cold War powerhouse that still possesses nuclear weapons, strategic bombers, and strategic nuclear submarines. Although it has one of the top three drone strengths in the world, it is not as strong as the country. In the Middle East, Iran is a significant player. We sanctioned it for decades until splitting up with them in the late 1970s, greatly diminishing its power. Unmanned aerial vehicles, on the other hand, are booming in this industry.
There was a time when ties between the US and Iran were at an all-time high. At that time, Bell supported Iran in establishing an aviation company centered on the factory that repaired helicopters. Tallash-1, a very straightforward low-speed target drone with a traditional layout that uses compressed gas for launch and is collected with a parachute, was developed as the first unmanned aerial vehicle. The next drone is the useful Mohajer-1, a compact, 50 kg double-tailed UAV that takes off and lands using rockets and parachute recovery—possessing excellent tactical reconnaissance ability.
Iran initially established a relatively complete drone aviation industry early in its development. After 2000, due to the US involvement in the chaos in the Middle East, Iran had the opportunity to access advanced American drones. For example, the wreckage of the MQ-1 “Predator” drone, the wreckage of the Israeli “Harpy” suicide drone, and even in 2011 and 2018, the RQ-170 drone and the MQ-9 were captured by Iran by using electronic warfare. It develops UAVs with different systems and functions, ranging from surveillance to attack, from small to large, and from conventional to stealth.
In May this year, the 313th underground drone base was unveiled outside Iran. As the first underground facility dedicated to drones in Iran, it not only covers a large area but also displays a large number of drones. Nearly 100 models and supporting ammunition were revealed, including the drone air-launched cruise missile that has been publicly seen for the first time. It can be said that Iran was still picking up US drones for imitation, and now it can be launched in a large-scale system. New products and even the level of development exceeds that of Russian-made drones still using SLR cameras. Moreover, when Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates attacked the Houthis in Yemen, many Rainbow-4\5 and Wing Loong-1\ drones were shot down. Iran can also obtain wreckage research.
Therefore, the outside world believes that after obtaining similar equipment from China and the United States, Iran’s drone technology has improved for at least 20 years. According to Iran’s statement, it is now one of the world’s top five drone manufacturers. Take the models in the UAV base as an example, including the Kaman-22 large-scale inspection and strike integrated UAV that was successfully copied in 2020. The aerodynamic layout resembles the MQ-9 “Reaper” and the Wing Loong-2. The combat radius is 1,500 kilometers, the maximum range is over 3,000 kilometers, the flight altitude is over 13,000 meters, and the payload is 300 kilograms. Equipped with Haidar-1 air-launched cruise missile, there are rocket-powered and turbojet-powered versions. The maximum range of 200 kilometers is not bad for drones.
In addition to large aircraft, there are also small and medium-sized UAVs, including the Kaman-12 medium-sized inspection and strike UAV, which adopts a double tail support structure design, a combat radius of about 1,000 kilometers, and a payload of 100 kilograms. It can mount four small air-to-ground guidance at a time. Bomb. Referring to the “Habi/Harop UAV” combat mode, Iran has launched the Arash suicide UAV and the Omid suicide UAV, which were first launched to cruise over the intended target. Lock on the target and then perform a suicide attack.
Although the overall strength of the two sides has been severely imbalanced since the conflict between Russia and Ukraine in February of this year, Ukraine has a clear advantage in detecting and attacking integrated drones. Ukraine continued to attack with TB-2 drones as the main force, with the help of NATO’s intelligence system. It was instrumental in sinking the cruiser “Moscow,” the armed tugboat, and the bombing of Snake Island. In addition to direct action, it conducts tactical air reconnaissance, directs its artillery to conduct guerrilla operations, and occasionally achieves many victories, such as destroying Russian military headquarters and logistical supply bases.
Abother UCAV from Iran is IAIO Fotros. Fotros is an Iranian reconnaissance, surveillance, and combat unmanned aerial vehicle built by Iran Aviation Industries Organization and unveiled in November 2013. It is the largest Iranian drone, and depending on armament, has an operational range of 1,700 km to 2,000 km with flight endurance of 16 to 30 hours with a Service ceiling of 7,600 m
Shahed 129 is an Iranian single-engine medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) designed by Shahed Aviation Industries for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The Shahed 129 is capable of combat and reconnaissance missions and has an endurance of 24 hours; it is similar in size, shape and role to the American MQ-1 Predator, and is widely considered as one of the most capable drones in Iranian service.
Iran’s newer stealth drones most notably the Shahed 181 and Shahed 191 strike platforms could prove particularly problematic for Ukrainian defences, which are considerably less dense or sophisticated than those over Israel. Iran remains the only country known to have combat tested such flying wing stealth drones, and access to its knowhow and technologies could potentially significantly alter the course of the war in Ukraine while also bolstering Russia’s position against other adversaries. The transfer could also significantly contribute to the prestige of Iran’s drone programs and increase foreign interest in making acquisitions.
For example, the Ukrainian army has obtained many Western heavy firepower equipments, including PZH-2000 self-propelled artillery, “Caesar” wheeled self-propelled artillery, “HIMARS” rocket launcher, etc., which can complete the withdrawal operation within 1-2 minutes. Due to the long-term neglect of the development of tactical UAVs by the Russian army and a severe lack of available surveillance and attack aircraft, the battlefield anti-artillery mission was countered by aerial attack aircraft and long-range firepower. However, the Russian army occupying air supremacy is easily discovered by NATO early warning aircraft. As long as the Russian air force is dispatched and the Ukrainian military is notified, the army’s mobile artillery fighting guerrillas will move their positions. As a result, it is not easy to efficiently and accurately strike the Ukrainian army artillery.
Obvious asymmetric advantage If the Russian army wants to attack more effectively, it must equip more large-scale surveillance and combat drones with long airborne time and large search radius. However, judging from the more than 2,000 drones currently provided by the Russian army, only There are dozens of them in this class. Even the “Orion” UAV with complete emergency production performance has only delivered dozens of sets due to the lack of attention in the past, which is entirely insufficient for actual battlefield use. However, due to its small size, slow flight speed, and limited time in the air, it is barely enough for observation but not for inspection.
Due to a lack of large-scale surveillance and combat drones, the Russian army was forced to rely on Su-24 models. Even during the Russian-Georgian conflict, the Tu-22M took unnecessary risks to conduct surveillance. Given the relationship between Russia and Iran, even though the latter is tearing its face apart with the West, Iran’s mature UAV series items can be introduced. The installation of UAVs for high-altitude and long-distance aircraft puts a lot of pressure on the Ukrainian army, which is armed with cutting-edge Western artillery systems. Even if they can penetrate the artillery pullout in a minute or two, they cannot withstand the Cha-Da UAV’s missile attack. If many Iranian drones can be acquired, the Russian army will have an excellent opportunity to fight tactically.