Iran tests armed drones and UAVs in unprecedented ‘Towards Jerusalem’ drill

Exercise in Strait of Hormuz showcases dozens of drones, reportedly developed on basis of US Sentinel model captured eight years ago

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)

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards on Thursday launched a massive military exercise in the Strait of Hormuz aimed at testing and showcasing the capabilities of dozens of locally-made UAVs, including armed drones.

According to a report by the Iranian ISNA news agency, the exercise was the largest of it kind to ever take place in the country.

The drill was codenamed “Towards Jerusalem 1.”

During the drill, General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ air force, claimed Iran had the largest armed UAV fleet in the region.

Iranian officials pictured with what Iran’s Fars website described as an MQ1 drone, March 14, 2019

The drill tested dozens of RQ-170 UAVs, which were reportedly developed by Iran on the basis of a US Sentinel drone captured eight years ago.

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)

It marked the first such exercise testing large numbers of drones in simulated combat situation, ISNA said.

Iran has “the biggest collection of captured or downed American and Israeli drones, including the US MQ1, MQ9, Shadow, ScanEagle, and RQ-170 as well as the Israeli regime’s Hermes,” Iran’s Fars news reported.

Late last year, 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.

Its 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.

Illustrative: The Iranian warship Alborz, foreground, prepares to leave Iran’s waters at the Strait of Hormuz, in this photo released by the semi-official Fars News Agency, April 7, 2015. (AP/Fars News Agency, Mahdi Marizad)

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

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

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

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

In February 2018, 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. Its precise intended target in Israel was not known, military officials said at the time.

Following the February 2018 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.

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.

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

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