Security officials from the United States and an allied government said in interviews that while the weapons could provide a significant boost to Russia’s war effort against Ukraine, the transfer has been marred by technical problems. Officials said the Iranian drones experienced numerous failures in initial tests conducted by the Russians.
“There are quite a few bugs in the system,” said an allied security official whose government closely monitors the transfer. The official agreed to discuss sensitive intelligence on condition of anonymity and his nationality. “The Russians are not satisfied,” the official said.
Biden administration officials, who also spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the substance, said.
Iranian drones could help fill a major gap in the Russian military campaign in Ukraine. Russia, which has 1,500 to 2,000 military surveillance drones, has relatively few attack drones of the type that can deliver precision strikes against targets deep in enemy territory. Ukraine, by contrast, has used Turkish-made combat drones To wreak havoc on Russian armor, trucks and artillery since the first weeks of the conflict.
Biden administration warned in july Russia is preparing to acquire large numbers of Iranian drones for air-to-ground attacks, electronic warfare, and targeting on the battlefield in Ukraine.
Washington Post columnist David Ignatius reported last week that Iran had begun delivering drones. But details of the transfer, including the types of drones offered and their alleged lackluster performance so far, have not been previously reported.
In interviews, US security officials and its allies said that Russian planes flew to an Iranian military facility to pick up drones over several days in mid-August. The Allied security official said the initial shipment included two Shahed drone models, the Shahid 129 and the Shahid 191, as well as the Mohajer 6. All are considered among Iran’s best military drones, designed for attacks as well as surveillance.
The deal was negotiated over several months by a team led by the brigadier general. The security official said General Seyed Hojjatollah Qureshi, head of the Iranian Defense Ministry’s Supply and Logistics Department, and the Russian military attache in Tehran. Under this arrangement, Iranian technical experts traveled to Russia to help set up the systems, and Russian military officers underwent training in Iran, the official said.
Iranian officials indirectly responded to US allegations about the pending delivery of the drone. Last month, Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani acknowledged “Iran’s and Russia’s technological cooperation” but said Tehran favored a diplomatic settlement of the Ukraine conflict. Asked last month about the alleged deal to acquire Iranian drones, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian presidency “has no comments on this matter.”
Michael Knights, the organization’s military and security expert, said that while Iran has supplied military drones to proxy armed groups such as the Houthi rebels in Yemen, it has rarely tested such models against the kinds of electronic jamming and sophisticated anti-aircraft systems used in Ukraine. The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Knights said Iran has demonstrated its ability to conduct “swarm” attacks with drones — including multiple suicide drones massed against a single target — and Western governments will be watching closely to see if Iranian drones can carry out such operations on a battlefield, Knights said. highly conflicting.
“These Iranian drones have never operated in a sophisticated air defense environment before,” Knights said. “The closest they have come to is [Houthi strikes against] Saudi Arabia or against US bases in Iraq, they generally did not do well. So I wouldn’t be surprised that in a more intense environment like Ukraine, they would have some problems.”
For Russia, the conflict in Ukraine has exposed the country’s failure to develop a line of combat drones similar to those used by the United States over two decades, experts say. “They realize they needed those drones yesterday in significant quantities,” said Sam Bendet, a Russian military analyst at the Virginia-based research group CNA.
Russia has only two countries it can turn to to “fill the capabilities gap” in combat drones: China and Iran. But he said China is deeply involved in the global supply chain and does not want to supply combat drones because that could invite US sanctions.
That leaves Iran, which is undisclosed in the same way and has domestic capabilities, Bendet said, “which is what the Russians are after.” Iran is an ally of Russia as well. So it’s the only real option left. Iran presents a very interesting case of having a homegrown industry amid the sanctions. It represents a fairly powerful ability.”
The United States in June began supplying Ukraine with a high-mobility artillery missile system, known as HIMARS, which can fire multiple missiles with precision at Russian military targets from a distance of nearly 50 miles. The use of HIMARS enabled Ukraine to destroy Russian ammunition depots and logistical supplies far from the front lines.
“The Russians have no way of limiting the damage HIMARS is doing to them now,” said Dmitri Alperovich, president of the Silverado Policy Accelerator, a Washington-based think tank. They hope the drones will help in the attack.
said Rob A. Lee, a Russian military expert and fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said other long-range artillery offered by NATO, such as the M777 howitzers capable of firing precision-guided rounds, also added to the Russian challenge.
“One of Russia’s biggest problems right now is that its air force can’t intercept things behind Ukrainian lines,” he told me. “They don’t have many long-range drones that can hit targets behind enemy lines. So they can’t prevent Ukraine from strengthening their positions and restocking supplies… and a lot of their drones are shot down or lost in electronic warfare.”
Analysts said that while Russia appears to be seeking to increase domestic production of such drones, it is being held back by Western sanctions and export restrictions, which have stemmed the flow of semiconductor chips necessary to produce such weapons.
“They rely on the black market, but the needs are enormous,” Alperovitch said. You need chips for everything from precision-guided missiles to aircraft to tanks, not to mention non-military items in their home industries. So there is a huge demand in Russia for chips, and if Russia can buy drones made entirely from Iran, it will not need to use its precious supply of black market chips to make its own drones.
Analysts said the drone transfer is unlikely to affect the ongoing nuclear talks between Iran and world powers, which are on a separate track and aim for a different goal: eliminating Iran’s ability to quickly build a nuclear bomb. But experts said the strengthening of military ties between Iran and Russia is a worrying development for the United States and its allies.
“The close alliance gives Russia some depth in military procurement, something that would be welcome in Moscow,” said Clifford Kupchan, Eurasia Group Chairman. “The biggest message – that might get lost [Russian President Vladimir] Putin at the moment – is that one of the so-called militaries of the world is having to turn to Iran for help with key technologies, which shows how depleted their stocks are. ”