Did Iranian drones practice an attack on a model of an Israeli ship?

Iranian drone drill appears to target mock-up of Eilat naval base

The INS Magen, Israel's Sa'ar 6 corvette missile ship. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
The INS Magen, Israel's Sa'ar 6 corvette missile ship.

Images from Iran’s drones drills over the weekend appear to show them attacking a model of an Israeli Sa’ar 6 ship, according to H. I. Sutton, a defense analyst and author.

Iran announced that it carried out drone military drills in southern Iran, and according to state media, the Zolfaqar 1401 drills included a variety of drones, such as the Arash and Ababil, targeting a mock-up of a port and a ship.

Iranian media said the drones took off from Iran’s Sahand destroyer and successfully struck simulated targets at the coast.

The media reports said “different combat, reconnaissance and intercepting drones were reportedly used in this operation, and the Ababil 5 combat drone was launched and destroyed the targets.” The report in Islamic Republic News Agency said the “Ababil 5 drone has recently joined the Iranian Navy and was used in the annual drills of the Iranian Army for the first time.”

What did footage from the exercise reveal?

A video of the launch of the drones appeared to show an Ababil-style drone launched from the Iranian naval vessel IRIS Lavan No. 514, which is one of several Hengam-class Iranian landing ships. In July 2022, Iranian TV showed this ship with a number of drones, such as the Ababil-4, the Arash and Bavar-5. This is supposed to be the naval drone division that Iran has recently unveiled.

Video shows the drones being launched and striking a target on the coast of Iran. The target, according to Sutton, appeared to be “modeled on Eilat Naval base in #Israel. The target ship was modeled on an Israeli Navy Sa’ar 6 corvette.”

Second Sa'ar 6 missile ship docks in Haifa (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)Second Sa'ar 6 missile ship docks in Haifa (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)

What is Israel's Sa'ar 6?

The Sa’ar 6 is a new class of advanced Israeli corvettes that had been commissioned by Israel’s navy over the last year. There are currently four of these ships in the navy and they are outfitted with the latest technology and defense systems. Last month, Israel tested the Barak LRAD aboard one of them.

The Iranian drones can be seen in the videos striking the mock-up of the ship as well as a warehouse. The superstructure of the ship appears similar to the Sa’ar 6.

For instance, the bridge appears to have the same configuration and windows. In addition, the mock-up seems to have a similar mast with sensors and also anti-ship missiles as publicly available images of the Sa’ar 6.

This means Iran not only copied how the ship looks when it first arrived in Israel but also added on to the ship based on how it was outfitted by Israel. This appears to be a clear message from Iran that it can threaten Israel’s ships and ports, as well as naval facilities.

Sutton identified the Iranian mock-up of the shore facilities as the Eilat naval base. In August, the US and Israel navies held a four-day maritime exercise in the Red Sea. The US Navy ships USS Nitze, USS Lewis B. Puller and USNS Matthew Perry participated with Israeli Sa’ar-class ships INS Eilat and INS Keshet, according to a US Central Command report in August.

Iran reportedly sent Houthi forces in Yemen long-range drones in late 2020 or early 2021. Those Shahed 136 drones were said to have a range of some 2,000 km., meaning they could reach Eilat. Iran has now supplied Russia with Shahed 136 drones. In early 2021, reports said Israel deployed air defenses due to threats from the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen.

Iran created the model of Eilat and the Sa’ar 6 near Jask in southern Iran. There is an Iranian naval base near this area. In November, Iran launched drones from Chabahar in southern Iran to target a commercial ship in the Gulf of Oman. Chabahara is around 340 km. east of Jask. The mock-up of Eilat and the Sa’ar 6 is some 20 km. from Jask, according to a geo-location carried out by OSINT analyst @Obretix.