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Iran's stealth drones have become the new blueprint for international warfare

Erin Snodgrass   

Iran's stealth drones have become the new blueprint for international warfare
  • Iran has become a global drone powerhouse as countries around the world copy its technology.
  • Russia has become increasingly reliant on Iranian drones to fight its war in Ukraine.

Iran's stealth drones and their copycats are popping up on battlefields from Ukraine to Sudan, making it a standout in global drone warfare and raising concerns about increasing military instability around the world.

In the past forty years, Iran has emerged as an expert in low-tech drone warfare thanks to decades of Western sanctions that forced the country to innovate weapons production by any means possible.

Countries around the world are now increasingly taking inspiration from Iran's drones. Bloomberg reported this week that at least six countries had ramped up production of Iranian drones in the past two years, bringing the total number of countries producing drones with Iran's help to at least a dozen.

The issue has become of particular importance as Russia becomes more reliant on Iranian tech to produce its drones for the war in Ukraine. Iran maintains that it isn't selling drones to Russia, but documents and extensive reporting indicate otherwise.

Business Insider reported in January that Russia was probably already in possession of an explosive new version of Iran's Shahed drone, causing massive headaches for Ukraine's air defenses.

Iran's Shahed-136 drones are frequently popping up on Ukrainian battlefields, despite being made up almost entirely of American and European parts — highlighting just how easy it is for Iran to bypass Western sanctions and buy electronic parts from Asian suppliers and front companies, as Bloomberg reported.

Iran is meanwhile pocketing foreign money in exchange for its much-coveted drone tech and expertise.

Bloomberg reported that the country was primarily using model airplanes propelled by lawnmower motors and guided by US-made components to power its drone empire. But despite the seemingly makeshift nature of the weapons, both the US and Israel — two of the most powerful militaries in the world — are struggling to defend themselves against the stealth drones that are reported to circumvent Western defenses by shadowing American drones.

In January, an Iranian exploding drone hit a US military base in Jordan, killing three US service members. The Washington Post cited a defense source who said the weapon was a small attack Shahed-101.

The drone was able to sneak past American defenses by shadowing a US drone also landing at the base — a trick believed to have been picked up from Russia, Bloomberg reported.

"Russia and Iran are learning from each other. That is almost as important as the technology-sharing itself," Matthew McInnis, a Pentagon intelligence officer who was a State Department representative for Iran, told the outlet.

But Iran's influence goes beyond Russia. Iranian-backed Houthis have curtailed trade in the Red Sea in recent months by perpetrating drone attacks on cargo ships.

Bloomberg reported that Ethiopia had used Iranian drones to squash rebellions in the country, while Tajikistan, Algeria, and Venezuela were also partnering with Iran.


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