Iran building a drone force based on captured US, Israeli tech — report

Al Jazeera claims Tehran increasingly using UAVs to monitor its airspace and track enemy fleets

An Iran-made drone is launched during a military drill in Jask port, southern Iran, in this picture released by Jamejam Online, on December 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Jamejam Online, Chavosh Homavandi, File)
An Iran-made drone is launched during a military drill in Jask port, southern Iran, in this picture released by Jamejam Online, on December 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Jamejam Online, Chavosh Homavandi, File)

A report by the Arabic-language Al Jazeera news network said Iran’s military was increasingly turning to unmanned aerial drones to defend the country’s airspace and attack its enemies.

“For Iran, [drones] comprise a new type of aerial fleet that avoids the technological complications of modern [manned] aviation,” the report last week by journalist Nur Ad-Din Al-Daghir said, according to a translation Wednesday by the Middle East Media Research Institute, MEMRI, which tracks Middle Eastern television broadcasts.

The report quoted Dawoud Najafi-pour, of the Iran Aviation Industries Organization, claiming Tehran “is ranked fifth in the world in the field of manufacturing UAVs, and all this is due to local capabilities which we can develop even further.”

According to journalist Mehdi Bakhtiari of the official Fars News Agency, that’s due in large part to the fact that Iran has “managed to enhance its capabilities and employ the most modern technologies after it managed to take control of an American UAV and an Israeli one.”

Iran’s various drone models, many still under development, include the Karrar, Mohajer, Fotros and Saegheh.

Screen capture from video showing Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami, left, during the opening of a production line to produce Iran’s Mohajer 6 drone, in Tehran, February 5, 2018. (YouTube)

Showing footage of what appears to be a US aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, Al-Daghir explained that “Iran has started using its UAVs for military missions that might prove difficult or even impossible for its traditional aerial fleet to accomplish,” including “to monitor Iranian airspace and the naval fleets of its enemies.”

In January 2016 an Iranian drone flew over a US aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf and also photographed a French naval vessel.

UAVs, Iranian officials told the network, can remain airborne for as long as 48 hours, be controlled remotely and strike targets as far as 1,000 kilometers from Iran’s borders.

The report claimed Iran has already used drones to target Islamic State facilities in Syria and Kurdish forces in northern Iraq.

Iran has been known to exaggerate the capabilities of its air force, and in August was ridiculed by Israel for allegedly presenting a retooled obsolete aircraft as a new “indigenous” fighter jet.

Chief of the aerospace division of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, Amir Ali Hajizadeh (left), near the captured US RQ-170 Sentinel drone in April 2012. (photo credit: AP/Sepahnews)
Chief of the aerospace division of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Amir Ali Hajizadeh (left), near a captured US RQ-170 Sentinel drone in April 2012. (photo credit: AP/Sepahnews)

Aside from the aircraft carrier flyover, there have been several other incidents involving Iranian, Israeli, and US drones.

In February Israel shot down an Iranian drone which was launched from a Syrian airbase. Immediately after shooting down the Iranian drone on February 10, Israel carried out airstrikes against a number of Iranian targets in Syria, including on the T-4 base in central Syria where the Iranian operator of the drone was located.

During the aerial raids, an Israeli F-16 was downed by a Syrian anti-aircraft battery, crashing to earth in Israel, prompting further Israeli retaliatory raid against Syria’s anti-aircraft systems. Both the Israeli pilots ejected.

An April 2018 airstrike, allegedly by Israel, hit the T-4 base again and reportedly targeted Iran’s entire attack drone weapons system in the country — prompting soaring tensions between Israel and Iran.

Days later the Israeli military revealed that the Iranian drone shot down two months earlier was carrying explosives to cause damage. Its precise intended target in Israel was not known, military officials said at the time.

Following the February downing, aviation analysts said the Iranian drone appeared to be a stealth craft based on the US RQ-170 Sentinel UAV. Tehran captured a Sentinel in 2011 while it was in its airspace, apparently on a mission to spy on the country’s nuclear sites, media in the United States reported. Iran has since claimed it managed to reverse engineer the Sentinel.

This undated photo released Monday, Aug. 25, 2014 by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, claims to show the wreckage of an Israeli drone which Iran claims it shot down near an Iranian nuclear site. (photo credit: AP/Sepahnews)

In 2014 Iran claimed to have shot down an Israeli drone near a nuclear facility after it flew in from a northern country that was once part of the Soviet Union. There are three former Soviet republics immediately north of Iran: Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.

The US, Israel, and China are the top military drone manufacturers in the world.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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