Iran expanding advanced UAV production

8 August 2023

Iran's very basic drone industry has been boosted by the war in Ukraine. This war helps Iran build a very advanced UAV industry.

With no effective air force, the Iranians have built a big UAV industry to have another way of hitting targets in Israel and the Gulf.

The Iranians are now sending UAVs to Russia. Israeli experts said that the shipments include hundreds of different types of UAVs.

Tal Inbar, an Israeli senior expert on UAVs said that the Iranians have built a very big, very advanced UAV industry.

According to Israeli sources, the Iranian UAV industry was developed using imported parts that were bought in various nations by a number of "Straw" companies – to effectively bypass international sanctions.

"They have developed some advanced armed UAVs that have been unveiled recently."

As an example, Inbar pointed to the Ababil 5. "This UAV is about 5 meters long and has a wingspan of 7 meters." Unlike the heavy industry required to produce armored platforms and ballistic missiles, UAVs frequently rely on civilian components that can be obtained even online. As a result, the Iranian UAV industry expanded quickly.

Israeli sources also say that some of the Iranian UAV's have been reverse engineered from American and Israeli UAVs that have been shot down in Iranian airspace.

And the Iranian UAV industry is spreading to other countries. In May, 2017, the Iranian press reported on the inauguration ceremony of a UAV factory that was established In Tajikistan.

Israeli defence sources say this plant is currently producing older models of the Iranian "Ababail" UAV. On 28 May 2022, Iran unveiled an underground UAV base, at an undisclosed location. Among various types of drones and munitions, a new, small, air launched cruise missile was also observed being carried by an Iranian copy of the U.S. “Predator” UAV.

According to international media, Israel is fighting a battle against the spread of Iranian UAVs and missiles. This is accomplished by bombing shipments of them bound for Leadon, where Iran's proxy, Hezbollah, would employ them, as well as Iranian UAV sites on this country's soil.

But Iranians have bigger plans for their UAV industry.

Israel is constantly monitoring Iran's efforts to set up factories making weapons in various nations in order to get around international sanctions. The U.S. receives this data on an ongoing basis.

The recent development – after supplying large numbers of armed UAVs to Russia that are being used in Ukraine, Teheran is negotiating the establishment of a UAV factory in Russia. Different sources say that the shipments of UAVs from Iran to Venezuela have been followed by local "assembly" sites.

Dr. Moredchai Kedar, an Israeli expert on middle east issues, notes that the Iranians are continuing to build what he calls a "terror empire".

"The international sanctions do not allow them to export weapon systems, so they have decided to establish assembly and production lines in different countries. They send their experts and they manage to use available technologies to manufacture weapons that Teheran is then exporting to its allies around the world," he asserts.

Some of the weapon systems used by the Houthis in Yemen are being assembled in the country. This local operation began with simple items like land mines, but in recent months the scope of local assembly and some production have been increased.

According to a report in the Teheran Times, the Iranian production site in Tajikistan is now producing the Ababil 2 UAV. According to the Iranian paper Iran's cooperation with Tajikistan can serve as a model for West Asia if they abandon their subordination to the U.S. and live in a "fearless world".

The regional development effort has already been impacted by Iran's new strategy on armament production. A senior Iranian military official said last September that his nation has developed a long-range suicide drone that could hit significant Israeli cities along the Mediterranean coast.

Raz Zimmet, an Israeli analyst on Iranian issues, contends that such weapon production makes Iran a regional power, and this sends a message to the U.S and Europe. 

The U.S and Israel are closely following the increasing capabilities of the Iranian UAV industry that has been boosted in recent months by the money paid by Moscow for the armed UAVs used in Ukraine.

It can be expected that especially Israel will try to minimize the effects of this these new development sites and advances.

Arie Egozie is an Israeli defence writer