Reports say Iran has expanded ‘kamikaze drone’ base in Yemen

Tehran is very openly bragging about its UAV capabilities and regularly lists its arsenal.

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 has sent drones to Yemen, enabling the creation of a base for so-called “suicide drones” or what are known as loitering munitions, according to Newsweek. The report claims that “Shahed-136” drones are now based in Al-Jawf. These are supposedly “advanced UAVs.” 
The report is unclear regarding most of the details, only noting that these drones might have a range of some 2,200 kilometers – which puts them conveniently just within range of Israel. In the past, Iran has claimed long ranges for its drones. It operates drones that are basically like cruise missiles: They are given a target coordinate and fly to it without needing to communicate with their base. In this sense they operate like a German V-1 rocket more than a modern drone; they don’t really “loiter” over a target.  
The Newsweek article, which has been picked up by other media, speaks of the Shahed-136 and Shahed-131, which it calls a “predecessor.” It alleges that these drones could give Iran plausible deniability because if the Houthis use a long-range drone to attack then Iran can claim it didn’t do it. The allegation is that the Islamic Republic would use this secret drone base to carry out the attack. A blurry aerial photo alleges to show the drone. 
According to the Drone Center at Bard in New York, Iran has several Shahed-series drones. It has the Shahed-123 and 129. These are surveillance-style drones. The 129 looks similar to Israel’s Hermes 450. Iran often models its drones on foreign drones. The Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company HESA builds them. Iran has other Shahed drones, including the 191 and 171 which are copies of the US RQ-170, a flying wing design. The Shahed 125 is a copy of the US Shadow. Iran has armed the 123, 129 and 191 with missiles. 
When it comes to loitering munitions, Iranian technology helped the Houthis build the Qasef and Samad series of drones, some of which have a long range. These have links to the Iranian Ababil drone series. Iran also has something called the Raad and Karrar, which are more like cruise missiles.
An Iranian delta-wing UAV that is of an unknown variety has also been downed in Saudi Arabia. The Houthis and Iran have a cruise missile called Quds-1 which is based on their Soumar missile. The Newsweek article includes an aerial photo of the alleged site of the drone base and a photo of the previously unknown delta-wing drone. 
WHAT IS the Shahed-136? It has not been seen before, and those who write about Iranian drones haven't seemed to mention it previously. The Oryx Handbook of Iranian drones blog shows the same Newsweek image and calls it an unknown munition used against Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq in 2019. Kan media in Israel call it the Shahed-129.
The Shahed-129 is usually shown in a configuration similar to a US Predator, which Iran copied. It doesn’t look like the delta-wing alleged in the photo. The photo is so grainy that it’s impossible to tell how anyone figures out that this V-wing design aircraft actually appears in it. A study at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy noted the Abqaiq attack was done with “newer delta-wing unmanned aerial vehicles.” But is this the one in the photo?  
In the past, the US, UAE and Saudi Arabia have documented how Iran has supplied the Houthis in Yemen. The US Navy even interdicted ships with material destined for the Houthis. Reports show how gyroscopes and other elements of drones in Yemen have Iranian components or design.
Tehran is very openly bragging about its UAV capabilities and regularly lists its arsenal. It’s unclear from where a Shahed-136 new UAV could emerge if it hasn’t been named as such in Iranian media. A search of Iranian media did not produce any examples of this drone.
The article comes amid rising tensions with Iran and in the wake of airstrikes in Syria. Israel has warned about Iran potentially using Yemen as a base of operations or threats.