By Thalif Deen
The United States has continued to accuse Russia of using scores of Iranian-made drones in its 11-month-old conflict with Ukraine.
But in an ironic twist, the Biden administration is now investigating widespread reports that Iranian drones include American and Western components— despite longstanding economic and military sanctions against Iran.
According to Cable News Network (CNN), the UK-based investigative organization Conflict Armament Research examined several drones that had been downed in Ukraine and found that 82% of their components were manufactured by companies based in the US.
Among the components found in some of the drones were processors built by a US technology company, as well as an engine made by an Austrian firm owned by Canada’s Bombardier Recreational Products.
Both companies, however, have condemned any use of their technology for illicit purposes.
A New York Times report on January 4 quoted Ukrainian officials as saying the military had shot down about 80 drones on a single day, and that Russia had launched about 600 drones since last September.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said January 6 that the United States has designated seven individuals in leadership positions with Qods Aviation Industries (QAI), an Iranian defense manufacturer responsible for the design and production of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones), and of Iran’s Aerospace Industries Organization (AIO), the main organization responsible for overseeing Iran’s ballistic missile programs.
US action, said Blinken, follows “our designations in September and November of individuals and entities involved in the production and transfer of Iranian Shahed
—and Mohajer —a series UAVs, which Moscow continues to use in its brutal attacks against Ukraine, including its critical infrastructure.”
The Iranian regime’s military support to Russia not only fuels the conflict in Ukraine but has also resulted in violations of UN Security Council resolution 2231 through its provision of military UAVs without advance, case-by-case approval of the UN Security Council, he pointed out.
“Iran has now become Russia’s top military backer. Iran must cease its support for Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression in Ukraine, and we will continue to use every tool at our disposal to disrupt and delay these transfers and impose costs on actors engaged in this activity”, Blinken declared.
Asked at a press briefing January 4 whether the US is seeking cooperation with Israel and other Western allies to track down the sources for Western components, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters: “We have absolutely had discussions with our Israeli partners regarding the threat presented by Iranian UAV technology and the proliferation of Iranian UAV technology to countries around the world, including to Russia.”
This has been the subject of conversations between senior State Department officials. It was a topic of conversation between Jake Sullivan and his counterpart at the White House just before the holidays, he said.
“And as we’ve made clear, we have taken steps using our own authorities that seek to disrupt this proliferation network. We have designated Iranian individuals and entities. We’re continuing to look for targets that would be satisfactory in terms of this
—a and authorities that we have at our disposal. We’re looking to harmonize our approach with countries, allies and partners, around the world to see to it that we are taking a coordinated approach to disrupt this pipeline of technology from Iran to Russia and other malign actors.”
But still, the Iranian domestic arms industry is a far cry from an industry possessing sophisticated military technology.
Asked about the state of the Iranian arms industry, Pieter Wezeman, Senior Researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), told IDN that in general, analysts of military technology and arms industry do not consider the Iranian arms industry very advanced.
“There is widespread scepticism about the actual capabilities, utility or even existence of some of the major weapons that are promoted by the IRCG, the Iranian armed forces and arms developing and producing entities,” he added.
Also, the flying GPS guided bombs and basic drones that Russia uses to terrorize Ukraine, or the ballistic missiles and ammunition that Russia may have acquired from Iran, are not particularly modern, he pointed out.
The evidence from recovered remnants of the flying bombs show that they are relatively simple in design, and it is highly questionable if they can be referred to as ‘loitering munitions’ or ’swarming drones’, which would suggest more advanced target acquisition capabilities and guidance.
“They make heavily use of key commercial components imported from all over the world, such as the small engine and electronic components. They have often been called ‘flying mopeds’, in reference to their simplicity and the noise they make. They have also proven to be easy to shoot down.”
However, their design makes these weapons cheap, and as long as Russia fires enough of them while some will get through the still developing Ukrainian air defences and will kill, damage infrastructure and terrorize and as such are clearly seen as serving a purpose by the Russian leadership which continues to have them launched against Ukraine, he noted.
Also, the Houthi’s in Yemen have been able to use such low-tech weapons to harass Saudi Arabia and despite the low-tech designs have managed to occasionally cause some upsetting damage in Saudi Arabia and even in the UAE, said Wezeman.
Meanwhile, the CNN also reported that the drone investigation has intensified in recent weeks amid intelligence obtained by the US that the Kremlin is preparing to open its own factory for drone production inside Russia as part of a deal with Iran, the officials said.
Iran has already begun transferring blueprints and components for the drones to Russia to help with production there, CNN has reported, in a dramatic expansion of the countries’ military partnership.