Iran claims new 'kamikaze' drone, smart bomb, EW capabilities

Iran's Tasnim says the country closely watched the success of Azerbaijan's drones in the recent conflict to learn from the experience

An Iranian Shahed 171 drone dropping a bomb as part of a military exercise in the Gulf, in Iran (photo credit: REUTERS)
An Iranian Shahed 171 drone dropping a bomb as part of a military exercise in the Gulf, in Iran
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Iran’s Tasnim news, one of several regime media outlets in Tehran that are avenues for the government to boast about its military technology, showed off its weekly drone and weapon threats. This has become a kind of tradition for Iran over the last years, always trying to portray itself as innovating some new weapon every month. Then the new weapon gets weekly coverage, as if Iran is a technological lab of genius that is like a silicone valley of drones and weapons.  
The latest story involves an air base in Isfahan and the Iranian air force, sometimes called Nahaja as an abbreviation. “It was Nahaja’s third appearance after participating in the Zulfiqar 99 exercise,” Iran’s Tasnim said. That refers to a drill in September. Now more drills have taken place that involved dozens of fighter jets, bombers and refueling aircraft, electronic warfare and drones, Iran says. “As in previous years, the deployment phase, the unarmed exercises, and the demonstration took place using a variety of weapons in the exercise. A combination of experienced and other forces were present at the exercise to transfer operational experience in an environment close to the actual combat conditions.”
Iran says that in recent years it has improved its Ababil-3 drones, its Mohajer-4 and Karrar drones. The Ababil and Mohajer drones are the latest versions of those that date from the 1980s. Iran has long innovated drones, some of them based on studying US and Israeli designs. For instance it copied the US Predator and RQ-180 and also claimed to have copied Israel’s Hermes 450. Drones in Iran are divided for use between the IRGC Aerospace force and the regular air force. There is some internal competition to see who can build the best ones. Iran says that its Air Force has built a Kaman-12 reconnaisance and combet drone. “In this exercise, in addition to Karar and Kaman-12 drones, a suicide drone named Arash was also introduced,” the report says.
The story of the new drones is linked to claims that for the first time Iran used a drone to drop a bomb. This was a 225kg munition, supposedly, and it hit its target accurately. It was unguided. The air force also used its Karar drone and what it called the “Balaban” bomb that has a range of 25km. The air force supposedly also has “pods” now on the drones for electronic warfare. “Karar may have carried one of these pods.” The use of targeting pods or other types of pods put under aircraft is not new, the US, Israel and other countries use such pods. For instance Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems makes a targeting pod called Litening that is used by 27 air forces around the world, including aircraft like the F-16 and F-15. Iran’s attempt to use “pods” is part of its overall attempt to claim it has the capabilities of other air forces. It doesn’t. It has drones and has used them as a kind of instant air force. It wants to put add-ons onto the drones as a way of showing that it is a kind of 4th generation air force.  
Towards this end Iran says that its “Kaman-12” drone is capable of carrying three rocket launchers and bombs, and that it was in the Zulfiqar-99 drill with the Kaman-12 UAV which helped with targeting and identifying targets. What’s interesting here is that Iran does appear to be using more drone combinations and using them with ballistic missiles. It did this o target Kurdish dissidents in Koya in 2018 and also against ISIS. It paired the drones with its ballistic missiles such as Zulfiqar, Qiam and Fateh 110 missiles.  
Iran has also been watching closely how Azerbaijan is using drones. Azerbaijan has a large number of modern drones, including the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 as well as Israel’s SkyStriker, Harop, Harpy and Orbiter drones, according to reports. Iran says that “suicide drones are among the weapons whose remarkable performance in the recent Nagorno-Karabakh war once again demonstrated their high operational value. In Iran, two decades ago, various types of suicide drones were built.” The “suicide” drone is what is called a “loitering munition” or kamikaze drone. Israel has also worked on numerous types of these, such as Harop and Harpy. Iran appears to be studying Israel’s UAV strategy and trying to copy it and also the US drone experience. Iran may have gone further though, it used these types of kamikaze munitions against Saudi Arabia in September 2019 and also armed the Houthi rebels in Yemen with drones to fight Saudi Arabia. These drones have proven successful against Riyadh, despite Riyadh having the latest air defense. Iran has learned from this and is now being more open about its achievements.  
Iran says that its new achievements show progress in electro-optical “lock” on target and that it is making progress with smart bombs, pods, and arming drones with munitions. This is a leap forward for Iran, if all this is accurate as depicted in their media. Iran showed off images of its Arash kamikaze drone diving on a target at 230km per hour. Iran says it has new advanced pairing drones with manned aircraft and using laser targeting designators as well as electronic warfare. Iran’s media points out that decades ago Iran didn’t have satellite images and relied on its F-4 aircraft, which the Shah’s regime acquired from the US, to complete missions. Iran launched a military satellite earlier this year. Iran says I has new Ghased and Yasin bombs for its aircraft.  
Iran is also trying to copy western militaries with improving electronic warfare aircraft. It says it uses Boeing 707s and its Falcon 50 aircraft for this. It says it has a range of 5,000km. It also showed off F-14s and its F-5 aircraft. Iran still has dozens of these functioning aircraft that it got in the 1970s. It ability to keep these aircraft functioning and flying and improve them shows its technical skill. It is not entirely clear how much of these capabilities actually exist or are just shown off in drills and on paper.