Commander-in-Chief of the Iranian Army Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi, right, and Armed Forces Chief of Staff Major General Mohammad Bagheri visit the unnamed underground drone base. (AFP)

By Track Persia

August 29, 2022

Some Iranian officials have said that their country has had various types of collaboration with Russia including in the military and defence sector. The first batch of two types of military drones which Tehran delivered to Russia was said to be last month. It is part of a larger order totalling hundreds of aerial war machines, according to Iranians and Americans. Some reports have revealed that these drones have been deployed by the Russians against Ukraine to conduct air-to-surface attacks and carry out electronic warfare and identity targets.

In August, Tehran sent planes carrying at least two types of unmanned aerial vehicles, both capable of carrying munitions for attacks on radars, artillery and other military targets, according to intelligence gathered by U.S. security and other spy agencies.

Tehran has transported these weapons to Moscow, despite repeatedly claiming that it would not provide either side of the Russia-Ukraine war with military equipment. To justify the provision of these drones to Russia, Tehran claimed that the drone deal with Moscow was part of a military agreement that predated the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Recent reports have revealed that the United States assesses that Russia has received the initial delivery of Iranian-made Mohajer-6 and Shahed-series unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) over several days last month. All the shipments are considered to be among Iran’s top-of-the-line military drones, designed for attacks as well as surveillance. The Biden administration believed that it is the first instalment of a planned transfer of hundreds of Iranian UAVs of various types.

This Iranian-made military equipment is likely to be part of a Russian plan to import hundreds of Iranian-made drones, according to American officials. More recent revelations indicate that there have been various Iranian-made arms sent to Russia.

The U.S. Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters that the United States had information showing that Iran was preparing to provide Russia with up to several hundred drones. American satellite imagery indicates that Russian officials visited Iran’s Kashan Airfield last June and July to view these Iranian-made drones.

The arrival of the Iranian- made drones could help fill a crucial gap in Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine. Moscow has 1,500 to 2,000 military surveillance UAVs. However, Moscow has relatively few attack drones of the type that can precisely strike targets deep inside enemy territory. Conversely, Ukraine has used Turkish-made combat UAVs to wreak havoc on Russian armour trucks and artillery since the early weeks of the conflict.

It is worth noting that over the past few years, Iran has supplied various types of military drones to allies of armed proxy militias such as Yemen’s Houthi rebels and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. However, Tehran has rarely tested such models against the kinds of sophisticated electronic jamming and antiaircraft systems used in Ukraine, according to many experts. So, Iran’s UAVs will be watched by Western governments to see if they are capable of carrying out successful operations on the intensely contested battlefield.

While the Iranian-supplied drones could provide a significant boost for Russia’s war effort against Ukraine, these drones have had mechanical and technical problems, according to American officials. Additionally, American security and intelligence sources have said that even the transfer of these drones was marred with technical problems.

Moreover, in early tests by the Russians for these drones, the Iranian-supplied drones experienced numerous failures. A senior American administration official has said that the Russians are facing numerous failures with the drones which they received from Iran last month and They aimed to use them in their war in Ukraine.

The Iranian-made drones that Tehran has used and demonstrated that they have carried out their missions successfully are those involving multiple suicide drones attacking a single target. Accordingly, the Iranian- made drones have not been operated in a sophisticated environment before. As for the drones that Tehran used against Saudi Arabia by the Houthi proxy in Yemen or against the American forces in Iraq by Hashid Sha’bi Shiite militias in Iraq, they proved they did not do well. It is more likely that such drones will have some issues if they are used in Ukraine which has a more intense environment.

The deteriorating economy and the chaotic politics in the Islamic Republic have profoundly weakened the position of the Iranian clerical regime. On June 27, 2022, the regime managed to convince Russia to sign an agreement on expanding economic and political cooperation between the two countries. However, this agreement ignores the sanctions currently imposed on Russia and Iran by the West and it formalizes the cooperation between both oil producers to evade Western efforts in avoiding them and to be able to export their oil.

A military cooperation agreement is said to have been signed between Tehran and Moscow.  In return for supporting the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Iranian regime expects Russia to back its destabilising activities in the region and maintain its position in Syria.

Despite being under pressing issues, in particular, the war in Ukraine, it is unlikely that Moscow will appease the Iranians unlimitedly. In Syria, the Russians seem to have reached unofficial agreements to avoid war with Israel, Tehran’s ostensible enemy, because of the continued Israeli attacks on Iranian forces there. Subsequently, there has been evident mistrust between Tehran and Moscow, despite their military cooperation in this war-torn country.

The fact that Putin participated in Tehran’s recent summit shows the extent of isolation he put his country in as a result of his invasion of Ukraine. Putin’s visit to Tehran to attend the summit is the first trip for him outside the former Soviet Union since he launched his war on Ukraine.

Given Moscow cannot turn to the other ally China because the latter is overwhelmed with the global supply and because it is keen not to invite American sanctions, Russia has only Iran to turn to for such military equipment. By turning to Tehran for military help, Russia which was said to have leading militaries shows how drained its inventory is.

About Track Persia

Track Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.