Iran’s maritime drone threat grows - analysis

Iranian media showed several ships capable of launching drones, including a submarine.

 A drone flies above the Indian ocean, Iran, in this handout image obtained on July 15, 2022.  (photo credit: IRANIAN ARMY/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
A drone flies above the Indian ocean, Iran, in this handout image obtained on July 15, 2022.
(photo credit: IRANIAN ARMY/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

Iran says it has launched a “flotilla” that is capable of carrying drones. Much remains unclear about this new “flotilla.” Iranian media showed several ships, including a submarine, that are capable of launching drones.

For Iran, this is an accomplishment, but it also raises questions about the danger these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) present. This matters because Iran’s drones are increasingly being used to target US forces in Iraq and Syria, as well as to target Israel and Gulf countries. Iran might also export drones to Russia.

Iran has used drones at sea for the last several years. It has unveiled these drone threats at exercises and also put drones on Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps fast boats. In the past, the threat included short-range and kamikaze drones. Last July, Iran used drones to target a commercial tanker.

The new maritime “flotilla” shows that Iran wants to leverage its relatively small surface fleet by giving it UAVs. Drones would expand the fleet’s capabilities and area of operation. The video of the drones being used included surveillance drones and drones likely capable of carrying munitions. Iran says the drones include those capable of “detection” and “destruction.” Iran International TV noted that the drones that will be deployed at sea include the Ababil-4 and others.

The fact that Iran unveiled this new drone capability at the same time that reports say it could supply Russia with UAVs, illustrates that Iran wants to showcase its abilities. It also wanted to unveil this capability at the end of the Biden visit.

 An explosion is seen at an Iranian missile and drone test at the 17th Great Prophet drill in Iran. (credit: Ali Yeghane Lari/Mehr News Agency) An explosion is seen at an Iranian missile and drone test at the 17th Great Prophet drill in Iran. (credit: Ali Yeghane Lari/Mehr News Agency)

Biden's visit

Iran’s media has been careful not to express too much concern about the Biden trip. That is reflected in news articles noting that Iran should try to work more closely with Saudi Arabia. Iran’s pro-government media wouldn’t be highlighting the chance for work with Riyadh if they intended to also raise tensions immediately.

At the same time, the unveiling of the maritime drone “flotilla” is designed to show that Iran is an increasing presence in the Indian Ocean and that its drones can and will operate far from home.