Iran is preparing to provide Russia with several hundred drones, including some that are capable of being armed with weapons, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters on Monday.
Sullivan also said the United States has information that shows Iran is preparing to train Russian forces to use these drones.
“The Iranian government is preparing to provide Russia with up to several hundred UAVs, including weapons-capable [ones], on an expedited timeline," Sullivan said. “Our information further indicates that Iran is preparing to train Russian forces to use these UAVs, with initial training sessions slated to begin as soon as early as July."
“It is unclear whether Iran has delivered any of these UAVs to Russia already," he said. “This is just one example of how Russia is looking to countries like Iran for capabilities that are also being used or have been used, before we got the cease-fire in place in Yemen, to attack Saudi Arabia.”
"One of the key tools is UAVs and precision weapons, which can reach strategic targets within thousands of kilometers, and thus this capability is already endangering Sunni countries, international troops in the Middle East and also countries in Europe and Africa."Defense Minister Benny Gantz
Iran's drone fleet
Iran has been building its unmanned aerial systems (UAS) fleet since 1984. Not only does it have a significant range of over 3,000 kilometers but it has very advanced development and operational capabilities.
The Islamic Republic has hundreds of drones in 48 different models, including those that are operational and others that are still in trial phases.
It has also designed UAVs capable of operating in a swarm of over 10 drones. Iran has also recently unveiled a drone with a combat warhead weighing between 5-15 kg. with an operational range of 400 km.
A drone and missile swarm by Iran was first used in September 2019 against Saudi Arabia’s Aramco oil processing facility in Buqayq, about 1,000 kilometers from where they were launched. The attack disrupted the kingdom’s ability to produce oil for months and alerted the international community to the threat posed by Tehran's drone arsenal.
Iran has since carried out several more drone attacks, including the deadly one on the MV Mercer Street that killed the British captain and a Romanian security guard.
Tehran has also transferred UAS models and know-how to its proxies like the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip.
The Islamic Republic’s defense industry is robust, constantly working to improve and manufacture systems and platforms that can threaten Israel and other countries in the region.
In November, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that the threat posed by these UAVs is not only facing Israel but the entire world.
"One of the key tools is UAVs and precision weapons, which can reach strategic targets within thousands of kilometers, and thus this capability is already endangering Sunni countries, international troops in the Middle East and also countries in Europe and Africa,” the defense minister said.
Drones in the Ukraine-Russia war
Russia has used drones extensively in its invasion of Ukraine, and the government in Kyiv claims to have downed more than 600 of the unmanned aircraft, according to the Kyiv Independent.
Ukraine’s military has also used drones to attack Russian forces. Kyiv has been using several types of smaller, shorter-range unmanned aerial systems against Russian forces that invaded the country in late February. They include the American-made AeroVironment AVAV.O RQ-20 Puma AE, and the Turkish Bayraktar-TB2. The US has included drones among the weapons it has provided to the besieged country, such as the Switchblade loitering munition.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Iran for a two-day trip late last month. The visit came after Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, invited him to the Islamic Republic, as world powers and Tehran are struggling to revive their 2015 nuclear pact and negotiations are stalled.
Russia's foreign ministry posted a clip of Lavrov's opening remarks during a meeting with Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi in which he said Moscow was adapting to what he called the West's aggressive policies.
Last month, Moscow said Russia and Iran, which are both under Western sanctions and sit on some of the world’s largest oil and gas reserves, had discussed swapping supplies for oil and gas as well as establishing a logistics hub.
Russia-Iran trade is increasing, and the Islamic Republic expects more Russian investment. According to Iran’s figures, the trade between the countries has doubled in the last several years. The Iranian ambassador to Russia “also announced that the Russian Export Development Center in Iran would be set up soon, and stressed the need for face-to-face and unmediated trade talks between the two countries’ businessmen,” according to a Fars News report.
Tovah Lazaroff and Seth J. Frantzman contributed to this report.