In a sign that the Russian invasion is not going as planned, Moscow officials have traveled to Iran to buy drones, according to US intelligence agencies. Tehran has long specialized in remote-controlled flying devices and has plenty of deadly models to offer Russia.
Iranian drones will be part of the Russian arsenal. The information was revealed by US national security adviser Jake Sullivan on July 11 during a press conference at the White House. It is not yet clear which models are being sent from Tehran, but the US has found satellite images of Russian officials visiting drone hangars in Iran. In addition, the US administration has indicated that Russian soldiers are already training in the use of war drones in the Middle East. This means that Moscow hopes to deploy these units as soon as possible to the front in Ukraine.
For the Kremlin, this is an admission of weakness, but for Ukraine, it’s pretty bad news. In fact, the second military power in the world has its own MALE (Medium Altitude Long Endurance) type of war drone, the Orion-E, but until then its presence on the ground has been limited to a few rare engagements. The real star of the air since the start of the invasion has been the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 used by the Ukrainians, who like to post the strike videos on social media.
Russia therefore hopes to have just as much success with the Iranian models. Tehran has specialized in flying robots for years and sells its devices to several diplomatic allies: Syria, Venezuela and even the Houthi rebels in Yemen. The US estimates that Iran may send a hundred drones to Russia. Since stocks of massive units are not that high, it may be that Moscow will receive mainly “suicide” models, like the American equivalents delivered to Ukraine.
List of Iran-made devices potentially sold to Russia.
Shahed-129, the Iranian flagship drone
The US has the Predator, the Chinese Wing Loong and Iran Shahed – lightning in Persian. Model 129 is the MALE type combat drone developed for spotting and attacking from a long distance. This impressive device, with a wingspan of 16 meters, flies at a cruising speed of 175 km/h and can stay in the air for almost 24 hours with a maximum altitude of 7,300 meters. This model has four Sadid-345 precision-guided missiles weighing a total of 400 kg. that The Shahed-129 was deployed against rebels in the Syrian civil war. This model may be high on Moscow’s shopping list because of its potential for long-range missions, including against US-supplied HIMARS rocket launchers, which are currently destroying Russian ammunition depots.
Shahed-191, the stealth version
In 2011, an RQ-170, a US reconnaissance drone, was captured by the Iranians while the aircraft flew discreetly over the territory. Blessings to Tehran, who later released their own similar version of this model, the Shahah-191. Composed of a single wing, this drone, mainly used for surveillance missions, can move at 300 km/h and climb up to 7,600 meters. It is also capable of carrying two anti-tank missiles. In theory, they are harder for air defenses to detect, but Israel has already shot down several of these Iranian drones without apparent difficulty.
Shahed-136, the kamikaze model
In late 2020, Iran unveiled a new type of “Shahed”, 136, intended to directly crash and explode against a target. Suicide drones are already massively developed by the US, and Iran follows this trend with this model, suitable for strategic strikes in stalemate wars. Ukraine used it against refineries in Russia. Shahed-136s were delivered to Houthi rebels in Yemen, a group backed by Tehran. These drones are known to have a range of 2,000 km and are equipped with an explosive charge.
Mohajer-6, the most economical
that Mohajer-6 is the closest to the Turkish Bayraktar TB2. Smaller than its big brother, the Shahed-129, this 5.5 meter wingspan model is used for both reconnaissance and opportunistic attacks. Also easier, Mohajer-6 is equipped with four laser-guided missiles, which have a total weight of 40 kg. The attacks will therefore be more likely to be aimed at an armored vehicle or a weapons depot. Introduced into the Iranian arsenal since 2017, Iran has supplied several Mohajers to Ethiopia as well as Venezuela.
Nevertheless, while Iranian drones have made astonishing progress in recent years, there is little public information about their combat performance. It is therefore difficult to judge their true capabilities, even more so on the Ukrainian front, where Stinger missiles and drone jammers abound.