Iran’s combat drones fitted with missiles

Article Highlights

  • Mohammad Ali Jafari has renewed emphasis on the IRGC-Navy and missile programs in Iran.

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  • Iran’s nascent UAVs pose a new threat which can impact international shipping and air traffic in the Persian Gulf.

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  • As Iran’s UAV fleet grows in terms of range and capability, the Persian Gulf risks are becoming far more dangerous.

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Editor's Note: FMSO’s Operational Environment Watch provides translated selections and analysis from a diverse range of foreign articles and other media that analysts and expert contributors believe will give military and security experts an added dimension to their critical thinking about the Operational Environment.

Source: پهپادهای رزمی ایران به موشک مجهز میشوند” Pehpadha-ye razme Iran be moshak-e mohjehaz mishavand (Iran’s Combat UAVs equipped with missiles),” Fars News Agency, 2 September 2012. 

Upon taking the helm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in September 2007, Mohammad Ali Jafari undertook a complete reorganization and review of the its posture. He positioned IRGC Ground Force units to focus more on the internal rather than external threat, and he has renewed emphasis on the IRGC-Navy and missile programs.

Much media analysis regarding Iranian capabilities in the Persian Gulf focuses on whether it has the naval capability to make good on its threats to close the Strait of Hormuz. Iranian naval exercises highlight the danger to American warships posed by swarming small boats. Maritime insurance companies worry about Iranian mining of oil tanker routes in the Persian Gulf.

Iran’s nascent unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), however, pose a new threat which can impact international shipping and air traffic, both civilian and military, in the Persian Gulf. Iranian UAV development appears to be real; as mentioned in this latest Fars News article, Iran’s Defense Ministry and the IRGC have tested UAVs publicly. An English language Fars News article picking up on the same deputy defense minister interview as the Persian version below focused more on UAV models and capacity than on recent decisions to fit drones with missiles or cultivate intelligence from the American drone captured by Iran in December 2011 (See here).

The Persian Gulf is an extremely shallow body of water, with a maximum depth of less than 300 feet. Islands extending national maritime boundaries make international waters narrow.

If unarmed Iranian UAVs already posed a growing threat to aircraft and helicopters operating in international airspace over the Persian Gulf, then armed UAVs can throw gasoline onto an already combustible situation. Unlike their manned counterparts, radio protocols to warn off UAVs threatening U.S. ships’ safety parameter are unclear. A growing UAV fleet might embolden the IRGC to test the defenses of American naval vessels and the UAVs’ armament might also require U.S. or other international forces to fire sooner upon intruders while they are farther afield.

As Iran’s UAV fleet grows in terms of range and capability, the Persian Gulf risks are becoming far more dangerous. End OE Commentary



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  • Michael Rubin is a former Pentagon official whose major research areas are the Middle East, Turkey, Iran and diplomacy. Rubin instructs senior military officers deploying to the Middle East and Afghanistan on regional politics, and teaches classes regarding Iran, terrorism, and Arab politics on board deploying U.S. aircraft carriers. Rubin has lived in post-revolution Iran, Yemen, both pre- and post-war Iraq, and spent time with the Taliban before 9/11. His newest book, Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engagement examines a half century of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes and terrorist groups.

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