With the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham showing no sign of letting up its military offensive in northern Iraq, Iran is moving to bolster the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad. Tehran has reportedly sent senior Revolutionary Guard commanders to advise the government in Baghdad and is sending planeloads of materiel to support the Iraqi army. A perhaps more surprising development: Iran is deploying drones in Iraqi skies.
Iran has been developing drones since the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, and although the military capabilities of those drones have been frequently disputed, Tehran has supplied drones to its proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah, and deployed drones in Syria. Its fleet of drones vary in technological sophistication but are a testament to Iran’s commitment to innovative military technology, even in the face of Western sanctions.
Iran’s first drone, the Mohajer, was developed by the country’s armed forces during the Iran-Iraq war to provide surveillance and intelligence. WIth Iranian forces sustaining heavy losses against their Iraqi opponents, the drone was developed to reduce casualties and prevent Iranian troops from walking into ambushes. The drone was at one point reportedly equipped with rocket-propelled grenades, which would make it one of the first weaponized drones.
A variation of the early model reportedly is still in use. This 2012 video shows what is believed to be a Mohajer-variant operating in the skies over Syria:
The Mirsad, Arabic for “ambush,” is an updated version of the Mohajer and has caused all kinds of nightmares for the Israeli military. Iran is thought to have supplied Hezbollah forces in Lebanon with a stock of Mirsad drones, which the terror group has used to penetrate Israeli air defenses. In 2012, one of the drones entered Israeli air space, spent 30 minutes over the town of Nahariya, then returned to Lebanon. The Israeli air force failed to intercept it.
“Today we are uncovering a small part of our capabilities, and we shall keep many more hidden,” Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised address, during which he claimed responsibility for the drone. “It is our natural right to send other reconnaissance flights inside occupied Palestine … This is not the first time and will not be the last. We can reach any place we want.”
Although little is known about the actual capabilities of Iran’s drones, its leaders are eager to show them off as the latest and greatest in military technology. Below, former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is seen at a 2010 unveiling ceremony for the Karar drone, which is capable of carrying an explosive load. The name means “striker” in Farsi.
Powered by a turbojet engine with a 250-pound bomb slung underneath and capable of carrying munition as heavy as 450 pounds, the Karrar has a purported range of 600 miles, which is still short of reaching Israel from Iran. When it was unveiled, military experts argued that the Karrar was built more for domestic consumption than for its military value.
Named for the Farsi word for “swallow,” the Ababil is a reconnaissance drone that Iran has reportedly deployed in the skies over Iraq in response to the latest crisis. Like other Iranian drones, the Ababil has been deployed widely in the Middle East, including in Israel by Hezbollah, and in Syria. In 2012, Syrian rebels captured an Ababil and posted a video of the vehicle (it’s the larger of the two):
A weaponized version of the Ababil has also penetrated Israeli airspace on multiple occasions. During the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, an Ababil loaded with at least 60 pounds of explosives made it to the outskirts of Haifa before being shot down by an Israeli fighter jet. Another was shot down over Western Galilee. A third was knocked out of the sky near the Lebanese city of Tyre.
The Fotros might be described as the Iranian equivalent of the American Predator. With a reported range of more than 1,200 miles and the ability to stay in the air for 30 hours, the Fotros is equipped with missiles and serves a similar combat function to its American equivalent. Although it’s unclear whether the plane’s actual capabilities measure up to the way Iranian military officials describe it, the Fotros has been touted as a strategic step forward by Iran. “This drone is able to carry out reconnaissance missions and carry air-to-surface rockets for combat operations,” state media quoted Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan as saying when the drone was unveiled in last year.
In the video below, the Fotros can be seen at a trade expo and taking off from a runway.
U.S. armed forces probably don’t see it as a compliment, but the Yasir is a ripoff of an American design. After capturing an American ScanEagle, a relatively small surveillance drone, Iran announced in 2012 that it had begun production on a copy. Last year, Iran unveiled the resulting vehicle, which appears to differ little from the American version. The American ScanEagle has a 10-foot wingspan and can stay aloft for about 20 hours, cruising at about 70 miles per hour.
The ScanEagle isn’t the only American drone captured by Iran. In 2011, Iran claimed to have hacked and captured an RQ-170 stealth drone, one of the most advanced in the U.S. arsenal. Iran claims to have copied that drone as well.
The models they have shown off, however, aren’t the most convincing.