Why is Iran showing off a 'secret' drone base? - analysis

Iranian media published a video over the weekend that they claimed showed a "secret" drone base somewhere in Iran.

 Iran's Army chief, Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi and Iranian Armed Forces Chief of Staff, Major General Mohammad Bagheri visit an underground site with drones at an undisclosed location in Iran, in this handout image obtained on May 28, 2022. (photo credit: IRANIAN ARMY/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY) VIA REUTERS)
Iran's Army chief, Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi and Iranian Armed Forces Chief of Staff, Major General Mohammad Bagheri visit an underground site with drones at an undisclosed location in Iran, in this handout image obtained on May 28, 2022.
(photo credit: IRANIAN ARMY/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY) VIA REUTERS)

Iranian media claimed over the weekend to show off a “secret” Iranian drone base. It can’t be that secret if they are showing it to everyone. However, what is being kept secret is its location. Apparently, a kind of “drone city” this complex houses numerous drones that are part of Iran’s emerging drone program and the drones now have more advanced weapons.  

The reports of the drone base focus mostly on video and photos of the base that Iran has showcased. Supposedly located in the mountains, the facility includes an underground bunker that is large enough to drive through, which is organized so that drones can be moved into and out of it.

Reports said that the trip to the site began in Kermanshah in the western part of Iran and that the base may not be there, but rather in the mountains somewhere.

The revelation about the drone bunker base comes days after reports that a drone was used to strike a military site in Parchin in Iran. This also comes a week after the killing of an Iranian IRGC officer who was involved in plots against Israel. Tehran wants to show off its high-level military equipment to advertise that despite suffering losses, it is also continuing to develop drones that can threaten the region.

The Islamic Republic has been accused of using drones recently in the region. It has exported the technology to the Houthis in Yemen and to Hamas in Gaza, as well as to Syria, Iraqi-based militias and Hezbollah. This has enabled all these groups to build up an arsenal of drones, primarily kamikaze ones but also surveillance ones. Iran’s recent videos and photos published on media like Fars News or Tasnim News show a plethora of drones, many of which are already known about.

 A drone is seen at an underground site at an undisclosed location in Iran, in this handout image obtained on May 28, 2022. (credit: IRANIAN ARMY/WANA/REUTERS) A drone is seen at an underground site at an undisclosed location in Iran, in this handout image obtained on May 28, 2022. (credit: IRANIAN ARMY/WANA/REUTERS)

Iran's drones

The drones have been decorated for the cameras, even sporting names in English, such as the Fotros drone. Tal Inbar, an expert on drones and missiles, examined some of the photos on his Twitter feed. He notes that one photo appears to show an Iranian drone with a radar pod, while another shows an air-to-air missile next to a drone. Another photo seems to show a Fotros drone that could be armed with a cruise missile. There are also Karrar drones in the photos.

Clearly, Iran is at least trying to pretend that its drones can now carry missiles and various types of pods used for surveillance, radar or targeting. But there are questions about whether all this technology works and is operational or proven, or whether Iran has done sophisticated mock-ups of what it thinks drones should look like and what they might one day carry as armaments.

It’s difficult to get armed drones to work well. It is also difficult to give them sufficient range and communication capability. While Iran has shown expertise using drones to attack Saudi Arabia with a mix of kamikaze drones and cruise missiles in 2019, and has used drones to threaten Israel, it is not clear how much the drones truly resemble similar technology being used by the US, Israel, Turkey, China or other countries that use unmanned aerial vehicles.

Iran’s goal in revealing this base is to show that it is continuing to develop weapon systems that can threaten the region. Whether all of the systems do what Tehran says they can do is another question.