Viewing conflicts through the eye of Counterinsurgency COIN – Since 2007
America isn’t the only country that deploys drones to spy on its enemies. In the skies over Syria’s bloody civil war, above Iraq’s jihadist insurgency and across a number of regional conflicts, Iran’s drones are becoming an increasingly common sight.
Ever since the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, Iran has been an early adopter of unmanned technology. But as drones have become more important in warfare, Iran’s development of the pilotless aircraft has intensified.
Iranian officials’ penchant for showing off fake new weapons can make it hard to separate the fact from fiction about what Tehran’s drones can do. So much of what we know—or what we think we know—about Iranian unmanned aerial vehicles comes from propaganda outlets, which are only too keen to play down the impact of sanctions and play up Iran’s martial and engineering skill, often with ludicrous assertions.
The truth, as ever, lies somewhere in between two extremes. Sanctions haven’t stopped the the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from putting more unmanned planes in the air. But the Guards still face challenges in arming them with air-to-ground missiles and building a communications infrastructure with greater bandwidth and range in order to control the robots over more distant battlefields.
The story of Iran’s drone development isn’t the underdog tale of scrappy Iranian engineers scrambling to catch up with the United States, as the Guards so often claim. Instead, it’s the story of Iran’s military prudently developing UAVs that are just good enough—and progressively improving successful designs.
A number of export control laws, multilateral agreements and international sanctions complicate Iran’s ability to purchase drone parts on the open market. Moreover, the United States, the United Nations and other countries and world bodies have levied specific sanctions against Iranian entities — and those of Tehran’s allies — for their role in Iran’s UAV production.
Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company, Qods Aviation and Hezbollah’s Stars Holding Group are all subject to sanctions.