Iran has reportedly delivered the first shipment of its locally-made combat drones to Russia for use by troops in the country’s ongoing war on neighboring Ukraine, according to US officials.
Russian cargo planes picked up the first batch of drones from an airfield in Iran earlier this month, leaving with two types of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), the Washington Post reported Monday.
According to intelligence gathered by US and other spy agencies, the delivery has been marred by serious technical failures in early tests and the Russians are displeased with the performance of the drone systems.
Russian operators continue to receive training in Iran on how to use these systems, which can conduct air-to-surface attacks, electronic warfare and targeting, on the battlefield in Ukraine, Biden administration officials told the Associated Press separately. They did not detail the “numerous failures” of the drones.
The Biden administration last month released satellite imagery indicating that Russian officials visited Kashan Airfield on June 8 and July 5 to view the Iranian drones. At the time, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan asserted that the administration has “information that the Iranian government is preparing to provide Russia with several hundred UAVs.”
A security official from an allied country whose government closely followed the delivery told the Washington Post the Iranian drones were experiencing “a few bugs in the system” and that the Russians “are not satisfied.” The official discussed the sensitive intelligence under the condition of anonymity.
In its first installment of hundreds of units, Iran delivered the Mohajer-6, a surveillance and combat drone capable of carrying four precision-guided munitions, and two types of Shahed drones: the Shahed-129, a long endurance drone that appears to be based on a combination of the Israeli Hermes 450 and the US MQ-1/9 Predator drone, and the Shahed-191, a stealth drone developed from the RQ-170 captured by Iran in 2011, according to the Aviationist.
The drones are “considered to be among Iran’s top-of-the-line military drones, designed for attacks as well as surveillance,” the Washington Post said.
The delivery marks the latest sign of what appears to be closer military cooperation between the longtime allies, as well as Russia’s supply problem.
The deal has angered the Americans who had warned Tehran not to ship the drones. Opponents of a resumption of the nuclear deal with Iran say lifting sanctions on Tehran could strengthen Russia’s war effort in Ukraine, allowing it to bypass sanctions imposed on it by world powers for its February invasion of its neighboring country.
Russia has been struggling to supply an overstretched military that has also sustained heavy losses and has not made significant use of UAVs.
Meanwhile, Ukraine has made great use of drones for surveilling and attacking Russian targets in the six-month war, relying on technology supplied by the US and other partners, including Turkey.
An explosive device carried by a drone last month struck the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet on the Crimean Peninsula, injuring several people. Supporters of Ukraine have also raised money to buy drones for the war effort.
Facing economic sanctions and limits on its supply chains due to its invasion of Ukraine, Russia has increasingly turned to Iran as a key partner and supplier of weapons. The White House first publicly warned last month that Iran was planning to supply Moscow with “hundreds” of armed drones. Days later, it alleged that Russian officials had visited Iran twice to arrange a transfer.
The signs of increased cooperation between Moscow and Tehran have added to concerns about the nuclear talks. President Joe Biden’s administration this week responded to Iran’s latest offer to resume compliance with the previous agreement.
There is now expected to be another exchange of technical details followed by a meeting of the joint commission that oversees the deal. The developments, including stepped-up public messaging campaigns by both Tehran and Washington, as well as Israel, which is opposed to a deal, suggest that an agreement could be near.