Was a 'remote controlled' weapon really used to kill the Iranian scientist?

No Iranian reports have sought to answer 'how' or 'why' such a weapon could be used.

A view shows the scene of the attack that killed Prominent Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, outside Tehran, Iran, November 27, 2020. (photo credit: WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY) VIA REUTERS)
A view shows the scene of the attack that killed Prominent Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, outside Tehran, Iran, November 27, 2020.
In the wake of the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, many reports have focused on the alleged weapon used to kill him. The BBC, CNN and other major media outlets have reported that a “remote-controlled machine gun” was used in the assassination. The original source for this was Iranian pro-government media.
But none of the reports have sought to ask how a remove-control weapon could have killed the nuclear chief and why anyone would use such a weapon for a killing like this.
Few reports by major media consulted with weapons experts or asked to see any evidence that such a weapon was used or could have carried out the attack. It took CNN 11 hours after relying on the Iranian regime media’s far-fetched reports to find a skeptical expert for a second report.
While quoting Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency as a “news agency,” the reports of this remote-controlled weapon spread around the Internet with no evidence or proof. Iranian officials did not produce the weapon from the charred remains of the Nissan truck that was also allegedly part of the assassination.
Fars News did create a drawing of what they claim had happened. It shows a blue Nissan pickup truck with a machine gun, lashed to some logs in the back, shooting into the car that Fakhrizadeh was driving in.
Could a remote-controlled weapon have been used? Anything is possible, but it is not probable. This is because these kinds of weapons aren’t even used that often on the modern battlefield, let alone in far off places like Iran.

REMOTE-CONTROLLED weapons have been of interest to weapons manufacturers and moviemakers. In the 1986 film Aliens, the second of the excellent movies starring Sigourney Weaver, four “Remote Sentry Weapon System” machine guns are used by the Marines in their battle with the aliens. Unfortunately, the guns, which have 500 rounds each, do not exact enough damage.
The movie depicts two very central problems these kinds of weapons have: They are stationary, and they run out of ammunition.
In the novel that became the 1995 film Congo, another set of remote sentry guns are used against killer apes. Again, the weapons fail.
In the 1997 film Jackal, Bruce Willis uses a modified large-caliber rifle with a remote control. This is a serious and heavy weapon, and it is later obscured in a red van to be used in an assassination attempt. Luckily, Richard Gere has the uncanny ability to shoot out the sighting on the remote-controlled weapon.
So if moviegoers in the 1980s and ’90s could watch weapons like this being used, then can’t clandestine organizations that seek to kill Iranian nuclear-weapons military chiefs use them, too?
The problem is not that the technology doesn’t exist; remote-controlled weapons stations can be found on military vehicles and naval vessels. It’s that the weapons are heavy, difficult to install and require a lot of technology.
There are gadgets that can be rigged to make many types of rifles remote-controlled, such as mounting M-16s on unmanned vehicles or drones. There is even a kind of small robotic vehicle that has been mounted with a pistol.

THE PROBLEM with the smaller vehicles, as well as other methods of mounting an M-16 or sniper rifle on an unmanned vehicle, is not only communications range but also that the weapon will run out of ammunition quickly. If someone was planning to use a remote-controlled weapon in an assassination, how would they guarantee supplying it with enough bullets to get the job done?
A larger weapon, mounted on a ship for instance, might have up to 400 rounds. But you couldn’t put that on a Nissan truck. Even miniature versions, with 12.7-mm. (.50-caliber) or 7.62-mm. rounds would weigh more than 100 kilograms. That would mean assembling a complex weapon in a remote environment after having smuggled it over a border and hoping it works when it gets there.
How would you test it and make sure its communications and everything else are in order without drawing attention? And if you did go to the extent of doing this, how would you obscure it merely by blowing up the Nissan, as Iranian accounts allege happened?
Also, Iranian claims that no assassins were present seem to obscure the need to have driven the truck to the location and left it there, with a rifle in the back, hoping no one bothers to notice it to inspect it, while also hoping that Fakhrizadeh and his motorcade will come along at the appointed time.
How would someone account for all those variables? One annoying person poking around might reveal the weapon system, capture it intact and trace it back to its handlers.

THERE IS a reason remote-controlled machine guns are not widely used in operations like this. After all, if they worked well, then why didn’t the US Special Forces just drive one into bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad rather than send in a team to kill the terrorist?
The reason no one uses remote-controlled rifles to kill high-value targets is because they apparently don’t work that well for this kind of operation. Countries do use precision-guided munitions, like when the US used missiles from drones to kill IRGC chief Qasem Soleimani.
Of course, there is always the chance that the killing of Fakhrizadeh was the first use of such a weapon. But there is something about the Fars News drawing of the truck that makes no sense.
If the truck was abandoned and the weapon was sitting in the back, it couldn’t have been stationary as depicted in the drawing, because it would have needed electro-optics to identify and track Fakhrizadeh, either in his vehicle or as he allegedly exited the vehicle. The weapon would have to move.
Again, this would mean a relatively robust apparatus around the weapon, a platform and station to maneuver it. And then an explosion destroys the truck, erasing every trace of this weapon?
Countries are becoming more innovative in precision lethal killing machines. For instance, the US has invented the “ninja” weapon, a modified Hellfire missile dubbed R9X, which uses blades to kill targets rather than an explosion. This enables it to hone in and just kill the intended person, rather than spreading death to neighbors.
Families of loitering munitions are being rolled out by various countries, including Israel, and are being used effectively on battlefields. These are called kamikaze drones, and they can loiter over a target before killing the intended person. However, they have limited range and cannot loiter forever.
In the arms race to find better and more secretive ways to hunt down enemies, these kinds of weapons, along with remote-controlled machine guns, may be the wave of the future. But one of them having been smuggled into Iran at this time still seems far-fetched.