(May 31, 2022 / Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs) Iran continues to develop and expand its capability to deploy and produce drones. At the same time, it produces drone-carried air-launched precision weapons, launch platforms and intelligence-gathering systems. All this is part of its asymmetric-warfare doctrine. Iran also emphasizes that some of its drone models have already been launched at Israel over the past year and are intended for a “preemptive strike” against its Israeli enemy. Iran boasts that it develops this capability with the help of lessons drawn from warfare in different world arenas.
Meanwhile, Iran continues to “export” drones to members of the “resistance camp” in Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, and uses Yemen as its main testing ground for drones, missiles, cruise missiles and explosive boats, in particular against Saudi Arabia and some of the other Gulf states. Iran also inaugurated a drone factory in Tajikistan to manufacture Ababil-2 drones, a product of the Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company (HESA)
A Wide Variety of Drones
As part of Iran’s force projection in the region, and to soften the impact of recent security incidents—which include assassinations and mysterious explosions—Iranian TV broadcast1 a report on a “top-secret drone base” located “hundreds of meters underground.” The base is in the Kermanshah province in western Iran, which borders Iraq. Drones can be launched against Israel from that location.
Blindfolded, an Iranian TV reporter was taken to “Strategic Drone Base 313.” After his blindfold was removed, photographers from Iran’s broadcasting authority were not permitted to accompany him. Army photographers took pictures of the base for the report.
The video emphasized that the base contains “more than 100 drones,” which include attack, patrol and suicide drones. The reporter said the smaller UAVs are equipped with missile and bomb systems developed in Iran and electronic-warfare systems. Fars News Agency, affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), showcased the kinds of drones at the base: Kaman-22, Kaman-12, Ababil-5 (equipped with Qaem-9 missiles, the Iranian version of the American Hellfire), Quds Mohajer 6 (an intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance drone that can carry four precision-guided munitions),2 Fotros and the Karrar, which carries different kinds of ammunition such as bombs, anti-ballistic missiles and surface-to-air missiles.
A Preemptive Strike Requires a Modern Capability
Mohammad Hossein Baqeri, Iran’s chief of staff, and Abdolrahim Musavi, commander of its standing army, were at the base4 and were interviewed for the report. However, the reporter stressed that no one else, including operators of the drones, were allowed to be interviewed.
Baqeri said that to achieve preemptive-strike capabilities against the enemy necessitates a transition from old to modern weaponry and new combat methods, such as drones, and this was proven in combat in Ukraine, Iraq and Syria. “The drones I saw today [at the base] can play an important role in that context,” said Baqeri. He added that Iran does not take any threats lightly. “We don’t think the enemy is sleeping, our eyes are wide open, and we are always ready and resolved.” The chief of staff stated further, “Today is an extraordinary day of great value for me,” and added that “the country’s achievements in this important domain are rapidly growing.” Abdolrahim Musavi, for his part, said that Iran’s drone capability is the largest in the region and the momentum of their development is unstoppable. Mahmoud Mousavi, the operations deputy of Iran’s army, said that there are bases similar to 313 in different parts of Iran that have been operational “for a long time.” He added that most of the special missions assigned to these secret bases are abroad and “aimed at inflicting severe blows on the enemy.”5
The First Cruise Missile to Be Launched from a Drone
During the chief of staff’s visit, Iran’s official IRNA news agency revealed the Heydar-1 cruise missile that can be launched from a drone at a range of 200 kilometers with a strike speed of 1,000 km per hour. The missile was introduced by Iran’s standing army (Artesh). The Tasnim News Agency, also affiliated with the IRGC, stressed that this is the first cruise missile of its kind that can be launched from Fotros or Kaman-22 drones. Baqeri said that Iran had developed a Heydar-2 cruise drone that could be launched from a helicopter.
Secret Base Mistakenly Disclosed?
After the broadcast, social-media activists alleged that Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) had breached security rules and disclosed the exact location of the “secret base” by mistake. They claimed that metadata can be extracted from the footage taken at the base, and the flight time and route of the helicopter can be calculated. Some activists concluded the secret base is in Dalahu County, in western Kermanshah province.6
Was the Drone Unveiling a Reaction to a Sabotage Attack?
The segment broadcast from Strategic Base 313 came a day after a New York Times report of an attack on the Parchin military complex, based on three Iranian sources and one American source. The Times said that the incident on May 25 at the Iranian Defense Ministry research facility in the vicinity of the Parchin military complex, about 60 kilometers from southeastern Tehran, was in fact an attack on the building by suicide drones of the quadcopter type.7
Quadcopters have a relatively short range. Analysts believe, therefore, that the drone was launched from within Iranian territory.
The Iranian Defense Ministry acknowledged an explosion at the site, but said it was an “industrial foul-up” that claimed the life of the young engineer, Ehsan Qadbeygi, and wounded another worker at the facility. The ministry did not say whether this was a facility that developed drones. Persian-language social media stated that the target of the attack was Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the Aerospace Force of the Revolutionary Guards.
After a blast in the same area in June 2020, Iran claimed it was an “explosion at a gas-storage facility in the Parchin area that was not connected to the military site.” In the early 2000s, Iran conducted several experiments in the Parchin area related to the military components of its nuclear program.
Iran will continue to develop and transfer lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS), both aerial and maritime, to terrorist organizations and its allies in the region. At the same time, Iran will continue to develop its asymmetric-warfare doctrine and integrate these autonomous systems into it, alongside its manned weapons systems such as speedboats. Iran will also use manned systems as launch platforms for its autonomous weapons systems.
IDF Lt.-Col. (ret.) Michael (Mickey) Segall, an expert on strategic issues with a focus on Iran, terrorism and the Middle East, is a senior analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and Acumen Risk Advisors.
This article was originally published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
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