May 8, 2021
The US forces in the region are monitoring Iran’s developments of its armed drones program. The weapon can be used for both surveillance and attack operations and can paralyze maritime and air navigation.
In unexpected statements to the US House Committed of Armed Services, and later repeated in conversations with research centers in Washington, General Kenneth McKenzie, Commander of the US Central Command (CENTCOM), said: “For the first time since the Korean War, we are operating without complete air superiority.”
He emphasized the danger to US forces and partners in the Middle East posed by small and medium-sized armed Iranian drones, which have been used for both surveillance and attacks.
McKenzie divided the threats into two categories: small aircraft that can be attached to grenades and mortars, and larger ones, which are more of a concern.
The Department of Defense is working, according to the commander of CENTCOM, on a variety of systems that are now being tested with technology companies in open competition to find the best and most complete capabilities.
In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat, Michael Rubin, an Iran researcher at the American Enterprise Institute, said that McKenzie’s comments came in the wake of a debate in Congress over the defense budget and his urging on lawmakers to allocate more funds to develop counter technology.
Another cause of concern “is related to the relatively low cost for Tehran to use such drones,” Rubin said, noting that Iran “may use a few million dollars to launch a swarm of these aircraft, while the United States may spend hundreds to obtain missiles, laser weapons and other technologies to counter them.”
Rubin, the author of a lengthy report entitled “A Brief History of the Iranian Drone Program” issued in August 2020, added that Iran could obstruct not only sea lanes, but air traffic with these drones.
However, McKenzie said that the US’ MQ9 Reaper drones, which first entered combat in the mid-2000s, have proven to be a critical and highly effective deterrent against Iranian attacks.
His comments have garnered attention from US lawmakers, with Rep. Scott DesJarlais praising him for prioritizing the issue.
“I am glad to hear that General McKenzie is taking the threat of Iranian unmanned aerial vehicles seriously,” he said.
“We need to ensure that the US Army has every resource available to swiftly develop technology to detect UAVs and take back complete air superiority. Iran poses a great threat to our closest ally, Israel, and we must make their protection our top priority.”