Components link Iran to drone attacks in eight countries

US CENTCOM reveals Iran's role in smuggling weapons

Iranian versions of the American RQ-170 drone which were used in a military exercise in the Gulf in Iran, involving dozens of drones, are seen on the a runway, in this undated handout photo. (photo credit: REUTERS/TASNIM NEWS AGENCY)
Iranian versions of the American RQ-170 drone which were used in a military exercise in the Gulf in Iran, involving dozens of drones, are seen on the a runway, in this undated handout photo.
Iran has been exporting drone technology to Yemen’s Houthi rebels over the last decade and similar components may link Iran to drone attacks in eight countries. A report by Conflict Armament Research on Wednesday provided a rare window into the extent  of Houthi use of drones and how the group revolutionized Iran’s drones. It also helped  map out a much wider pattern of drone components used from Sudan to Afghanistan. The US also revealed new details Wednesday on a shipment of Iranian weapons seized in November last year. The new details appear to link Iran directly to the attack on Saudi Arabia in September 2019.
Let’s begin in Yemen where the Houthi rebels have revolutionized drone warfare, using drones  against a Saudi Arabia-backed alliance. They’ve crashed them into radars and air defense technology, and attacked airports and military parades and infrastructure. CAR research has previously “concluded that the Qasef-1 UAV is not  of indigenous design and construction, but rather manufactured in Iran and supplied in batches to Houthi forces in Yemen.”
In 2019 the Houthis showed off a number of drones, or UAVs, that they had been using. At least eight were being made and used. This included the Hudhed-1, Raqib,  Rased, and Saamad 1 and the Qasef-1, Qasef 2k, Sammad 2 and Sammad 3. The first four are reconnaissance drones. The Houthis had taken the Iranian Ababil-T drone and turned it into the Qasef-1. The Houthis, who are relatively poor, were able to produce sophisticated drones. CAR concluded that the markings on electronic components point to “industrial production and quality control processes. Some internal components match those found in Iranian-made UAVs.”
Yet the Houthis acquired very complex technology. The Sammad drone that appeared in 2018 eventually reached a range of up to 1,500km. “The Sammad has the same exterior cast and print color as the imported Qasef-1,” the report says. UAE  forces captured one of the drones in June 2018. The components look like those in a Qasef-1. How do the Sammad engines reach  Yemen. According to the study they came from a German company, perhaps via Greece. This would have been an illegal export and the report makes it clear that  the discovery of the German-made  engines in drones in Yemen does not mean the original  manufacturer is responsible.
The research shows that some components have originated Iran or are identical to those found in the Jihan 1 merchant vessel. The Jihan 1 merchant vessel was stopped off Yemen in  2013. Components  also had similarity to those “Bahraini forces captured  from militant factions in Bahrain.” Jonah Leff  was quoted by the Associated Press as  saying  that the  gyroscope in the drones that  have been found pointed to Tehran. “We’ve seen it now enough times in Iranian-manufactured  material to be able to confidently  say  that the presence of it in Houthi-produced items suggests that the material was supplied from Iran.”
A map CAR produced shows components spread  across the region where these drones have been shot down or crashed. In 2012 an Iranian Ababil-3  was  downed in Sudan’s South Kordofan. A similar gyroscope was found in an Ababil-3 in Iraq  provided to an Iranian-backed  group. Other components were found in Bahrain and also a Shahed-141 UAV downed in Israel in February 2018. That drone had flown from Syria. In Yemen and Saudi Arabia numerous drones and components have been documented. This means that Bahrain, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Israel, Iraq, Syria and even Afghanistan have been targeted by these Iranian-linked drones or groups using components linked to them. In Afghanistan, for instance, a V9 gyroscope was found on a Shahed-123 drone that was downed in Afghanistan in a 2016 crash.
A cruise missile was also found by the US Navy in a raid in November last year. It was reportedly linked by similar  components. US CENTCOM says that the ship stopped by the USS Normandy and USS Forrest Sherman was involved in Iranian weapon smuggling. The US found Russian Kornet anti-tank  missiles and Iranian designed 358 surface-to-air  missiles. UAV components  for the Qasef and Sammad drones were also found.
The big find in the November incident were “sections of the 351 cruise missile” that the US says was consistent  with the attack on Saudi Aramco facilities in September last year. The equipment here links Iran directly to the Houthi drones via such components as gyroscopes. According to a tweet by Adam Rawnsley, an expert in Iranian UAVs, the new details also show that one of the UAVs used in the Abqaiq attack in September  in Saudi Arabia had appeared at an IRGC event in 2014.
The full range of details about Iran’s drone program has yet to be revealed, partly because many studies only see a piece of the Iranian drone elephant. Nevertheless, the recent reports from CAR, CENTCOM and others paint a picture of an Iranian drone program that has affected the Middle East increasingly and which Houthis have perfected in their conflict with the Saudi-led Coalition. Iran’s attacks, such as in Saudi Arabia in September 2019, are becoming more sophisticated using this technology. However, the lack of some components may make Iran husband these resources as it faces sanctions and other challenges.