How many drones does Iran have? Overview of the IRGC drone arsenal
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How many drones does Iran have? Overview of the IRGC drone arsenal

How many drones does Iran have? Overview of the IRGC drone arsenal

Iran first began developing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) during the war with Iraq in 1980-1988, when it could not replace American-made aircraft shot down by the Iraqis. Access to spare parts to maintain its aircraft has also been hampered by US sanctions. As the war continued, Iran turned to UAVs as an alternative to manned aircraft. To date, this technology has proven to be extremely effective, and as of 2024, Iran is armed with about 5000 drones of various types, about 85% of which are kamikaze drones. Remarkably, Iran can produce about 300-350 kamikaze drones per month, which allows it to wage very long conflicts.

Early drones of Iran

Iran's early models had outdated technology. Iran's first drone, the Mohajer-1, had just one camera - with film that had to be developed after recovery - for surveillance. Its radios for communicating with operators on the ground were comparable to amateur radio; they could easily be thwarted and therefore incapacitated by Iraqi forces. In the 1990s, after the war, Iran installed more advanced navigation systems using GPS and cameras with higher resolution and longer range.

Iranian drone Mohajer-1

Active drone production in Iran

In the 2010s, Iran developed longer-range UAVs capable of carrying bombs and missiles. In 2012, the new Shahed-129 could fly for up to 24 hours and had a range of 1700 kilometers (over 1000 miles). It was about the same size as the American Predator drone and had similar capabilities. Subsequent versions could carry up to eight precision-guided missiles or bombs. The Shahed-129 became the backbone of Iran's drone fleet. In 2014, Iran reportedly deployed the Shahed-129 with its troops to Syria for use against rebels and ISIS during the civil war.

Iranian drone shahed-129

New generation of Iranian drones

In the early 2020s, Iran developed a new generation of kamikaze drones that are superior to ballistic missiles with comparable ranges. They were cheaper. One Shahed-136 allegedly cost $20, while the Russian Kaliber cruise missile cost $000 million. They were more portable. Arash, about 1 feet long, could supposedly be launched from a regular car. Their components were easier to smuggle. And kamikaze drones were harder to detect—both visually and by radar—than ballistic missiles. They weren't that noisy. They do not produce high heat signatures, making them more difficult to track by satellites than ballistic missiles.

Iranian drone shahed-136

However, kamikaze drones tend to have smaller payloads than ballistic missiles. The Shahed-136 can carry a warhead weighing 40 kilograms (88 lb), while many of Iran's ballistic missiles have carried warheads weighing more than 550 kilograms (1212 lb). In September 2019, Iran demonstrated its precision hit when 20 of its drones struck 14 storage tanks and three oil refining units at the Saudi Abqaiq refineries. "UAVs are Iran's fastest growing air capability," the US Defense Intelligence Agency warned in 2019.

Thousands of Iranian drones

By 2024, Iran's military-industrial complex had produced thousands of advanced drones used for surveillance, reconnaissance, and combat operations against American forces as well as American allies in the Middle East. Drones (unmanned aerial vehicles) have become one of the greatest assets of Iran's "Axis of Resistance" - a network of militias in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen - and one of the greatest threats to Iran's regional rivals.

Iranian UAV strikes

On January 28, 2024, an Iranian-made drone attacked Tower 22, a US outpost in Jordan along the border with Iraq and Syria, killing three US soldiers and wounding more than 40.

In January 2024, 18 Iranian-designed drones were fired by the Houthis in Yemen at ships in the Red Sea.

In September 2019, drones and cruise missiles fired from Iran attacked Saudi Arabia's largest oil refinery, temporarily crippling nearly half of the kingdom's oil production.

Iranian militias began using drones against US military and diplomatic targets in Iraq and Syria in 2021. In 2021 and 2022, Iranian-designed drones were linked to at least 20 percent of attacks carried out by Tehran-linked militias, according to War on the Rocks. Drone attacks on targets in Syria, Iraq and Jordan have increased again since the outbreak of war between Hamas and Israel on October 7, 2023. Iran has also supplied hundreds of drones to its key ally. Subsequently, they were redesigned and the UAVs "Geran-1" and "Geran-2" appeared

“Unmanned aerial vehicles pose the most immediate security threat in the Middle East due to their low cost, widespread availability, and potential irrefutability—since their point of origin can be masked by an obfuscated flight path,” Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. wrote. former head of US Central Command, in an article for the Washington Institute. The technology created "an inflection point in the air war - comparable to the introduction of manned flight more than a century ago - that ended the guarantee of US air superiority over its troops and bases," he warned in February 2023.

Iranian drones

Kamikaze Drones: Iran has at least 10 different models of kamikaze drones that explode on impact. They can be as accurate as a ballistic missile, but they can fly lower to avoid radar detection. Smaller models, such as the Shahed-136, carry less than 45 kilograms (100 lb) of explosives. One of the smallest models, the Meraj-521, carries just 3 kilograms (6,6 pounds) of explosives. Many of them are slow and therefore easier to shoot down with anti-aircraft guns or missiles. Their range ranges from 5 kilometers (3 miles) to 2500 kilometers (1550 miles). Iran's largest kamikaze drones, such as the Arash series, can carry up to 260 kilograms (575 pounds) of explosives. They have a range of up to 2000 kilometers (1240 miles).

Combat and reconnaissance drones: Iran has more than a dozen models of combat drones capable of attacking land, sea or air targets and then returning to base. Larger models such as the Shahed-149 have a range of 2000 kilometers (1240 miles) and can carry up to 500 kilograms (1100 lb) of ammunition or electronic equipment.

Most of Iran's combat drones, including long-range models, also have reconnaissance capabilities. Their functions range from capturing photos and videos to marking targets for bombers, fighters or other drones. Iran also has smaller drones designed solely for reconnaissance, such as the Hodhod-1, which have a range of only 30 kilometers (18 miles). They can only stay in the air for an hour or two.

Several Iranian drones have been modeled after captured US drones, including the Predator, Reaper, Sentinel and ScanEagle 5, as well as the Israeli Hermes drone. Iran has imitated the shape of these UAVs, but has not necessarily replicated all of the complex on-board electronic systems. However, Iran has managed to import American components - almost certainly through intermediaries - for less advanced drones, including the Shahed-136.

Since 2015, Iran has allegedly flown drones into Saudi Arabian oil fields, dissident groups in Pakistan and Iraqi Kurdistan, and jihadist groups in Syria. In 2018, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said it carried out 700 drone strikes against ISIS targets in Syria. Iran has deployed armed drones outside its borders. Tehran began exporting drone technology to Hezbollah, a Shiite militia in Lebanon, in the 2000s. In 2004, Hezbollah became the first non-state actor in the world to use military drones. And in 2006, Hezbollah - backed by Iran - used armed drones during its 34-day war with Israel. Iran has exported drones or technology to six other proxy militias and five governments, including Russia, Venezuela, Sudan, Ethiopia and Tajikistan.

 

List of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) of Iran:

Ababil-2

Iranian drone Ababil-2

  • Developed in 1999;
  • Operated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Iranian Army (Artesh);
  • Can be used for combat missions, reconnaissance and surveillance, and training;
  • Flight range up to 120 kilometers (75 miles);
  • The payload can include up to 40 kilograms (88 lb) of explosives;
  • Flight time up to 2 hours;
  • Exported in small quantities to Lebanon to Hezbollah in the 2000s, to the Houthis in Yemen by 2016, and to Hamas in the Gaza Strip by 2021;
  • Variants include Ababil-B (target UAV), Ababil-S (reconnaissance UAV) and Ababil-T (attack UAV).

Ababil-3

Iranian drone Ababil-3

  • Developed in 2010 (but reportedly in production as early as 2006 or 2008);
  • Operated by the IRGC and Artesh;
  • Can be used for combat missions or reconnaissance and surveillance;
  • Flight range from 100 kilometers (62 miles) to 250 kilometers (155 miles);
  • The payload can include 2 guided bombs weighing a total of 2,4 kilograms (5,3 lb) with a range of 6 kilometers (3,7 mi) or guided anti-tank missiles with a range of 8 kilometers (5 mi);
  • Flight time from 4 to 8 hours;
  • Exported in small quantities to Sudan by 2008, militias in Iraq by 2015;
  • Options include Atlas.

Ababil-4

 By 2022, Iran was using the Ababil-4 in military exercises, but little information has been provided about this UAV.

Ababil-5

Iranian drone Ababil-5

  • Developed in 2022;
  • Operated by Artesh;
  • Can be used for combat missions or reconnaissance and surveillance
  • Flight range 480 kilometers (300 miles);
  • The payload could include four guided anti-tank missiles with a range of 8 kilometers (5 mi) or six guided bombs weighing 2,4 kilograms (5,3 lb) with a range of 6 kilometers (3,7 mi).

Arash

Iranian drone Arash

  • Developed in 2019 (is a variant of Kyan);
  • Operated by Artesh;
  • Can be used for combat missions;
  • Flight range 2000 kilometers (1200 miles);
  • The payload may include 30 kilograms (66 lb) of explosives;
  • Flight time is up to 8,5 hours.

Fotros

Iranian drone Fotros

  • Developed in 2020 (an early version or prototype was introduced in 2013);
  • Operated by the IRGC;
  • Flight range from 1700 kilometers (1050 miles) to 2000 kilometers (1240 miles);
  • The payload could include six anti-tank missiles with a range of 10 kilometers (6,2 mi) or four anti-tank missiles and two 2,4 kilogram (5,3 lb) guided bombs with a range of 6 kilometers (3,7 mi);
  • Flight time is up to 30 hours.

Hamaseh

  • Developed in 2013;
  • Operated by the IRGC;
  • Can be used for combat missions or reconnaissance and surveillance;
  • Flight range 200 kilometers (125 miles);
  • The payload may include missiles or guided missiles;
  • Flight time is up to 11 hours.

Kaman-12

  • Developed in 2019;
  • Operated by Artesh;
  • Can be used for combat missions or reconnaissance and surveillance
  • Flight range 1000 kilometers (620 miles);
  • The payload could include missiles with a range of 30 kilometers (18 mi) or four guided bombs weighing 22 kilograms (50 lb) each;
  • Flight time is from 10 to 12 hours.

Kaman-22

Iranian drone Kaman-22

  • Developed in 2021;
  • Operated by Artesh;
  • Can be used for combat missions or reconnaissance and surveillance
  • Flight range up to 3000 kilometers (1860 miles);
  • The payload could include four guided missiles, two unguided bombs, or other munitions weighing up to 300 kilograms (660 lb);
  • Flight time is up to 24 hours.

Karrar

Iranian Karar drone

  • Developed in 2010;
  • Can be used for combat missions or reconnaissance and surveillance;
  • Flight range from 700 kilometers (435 miles) to 1000 kilometers (620 miles);
  • The payload could include a bomb weighing 250 kilograms (550 lb), two smaller bombs whose total weight is the same, four anti-ship cruise missiles with a range of 25 kilometers (15 mi), or Majid air-to-air missiles with a range actions 8 kilometers (5 miles);
  • Flight time is more than 2 hours;
  • Exported in small quantities to Hezbollah Lebanon or Syria;
  • Options include Karrar 3.

Kian

  • Developed or introduced in 2015;
  • Operated by Artesh;
  • Can be used for combat missions or reconnaissance and surveillance;
  • Flight range 1000 kilometers (620 miles);
  • The payload can include up to 30 kilograms (66 lb) of explosives;
  • Options include a reconnaissance model and a bomber.

Kian-2

  • Developed in 2019;
  • Can be used for combat missions or reconnaissance and surveillance;
  • Flight range from 1000 kilometers (620 miles) to 2000 kilometers (1240 miles).

Meraj-521

Iranian drone Meraj-521

  • Developed in 2022;
  • Operated by the IRGC;
  • Can be used for combat missions;
  • Flight range 5 kilometers (3,1 mi);
  • The payload includes 3 kilograms (6,6 lb) of explosives;
  • Flight time is up to 15 minutes.

Mohajer-2

  • Developed in 1996;
  • Operated by the IRGC and Artesh;
  • Can be used for combat missions or reconnaissance and surveillance;
  • Flight range from 50 kilometers (31 miles) to 150 kilometers (93 miles) depending on the variant;
  • The payload may include grenade launchers;
  • Flight time is from 1,5 to 6 hours depending on the option;
  • Exported in small quantities to Venezuela;
  • Variants include N2 (introduced in 2014).

Mohajer-4

Iranian drone Mohajer-4

  • Developed in 1997;
  • Operated by the IRGC and Artesh;
  • Can be used for combat missions or reconnaissance and surveillance;
  • Flight range 150 km (90 miles);
  • The payload may include four air-to-air missiles or unguided missiles;
  • Flight time from 3 to 7 hours;
  • Exported in small quantities to Hezbollah Lebanon in the 2000s and to Syria;
  • Variants include the Mohajer-4B, also known as the Saeqeh, and the Hodhod.

Mohajer-6

Iranian drone Mohajer-6

  • Developed in 2017, but may have been in production as early as the early 2000s;
  • Operated by the IRGC and Artesh;
  • Can be used for combat missions or reconnaissance and surveillance;
  • Flight range from 150 to 200 kilometers (90 to 120 miles);
  • The payload can include two options: short-range missiles capable of hitting targets 6 kilometers (3,7 mi) away, or guided bombs weighing up to 150 kilograms (330 lb) capable of hitting targets 20 kilometers (12,4 mi) away;
  • Flight time from 6 to 12 hours;
  • Exported in small quantities to Venezuela and Ethiopia by 2021, unknown quantities to Russia in 2022, and to Sudan in early 2024.

Mohajer-10

Iranian drone Mohajer-10

  • Developed at the end of August 2023;
  • Can be used for combat missions or reconnaissance and surveillance;
  • The flight range is believed to be capable of reaching Israel, located about 1800 kilometers (approximately 1100 miles) away;
  • The payload can include up to 300 kilograms (660 lb) of explosives;
  • Flight time is up to 24 hours.

shahed-129

Iranian drone Shahed-129

  • Developed in 2012;
  • Operated by the IRGC;
  • Can be used for combat missions or reconnaissance and surveillance;
  • Flight range from 1700 kilometers (1050 miles) to 2000 kilometers (1240 miles);
  • The payload may include at least two munitions, such as guided glide bombs weighing 34 kilograms (75 lb) each;
  • Flight time up to 24 hours;
  • Exported in small quantities to Hezbollah in Lebanon as early as 2012 (reportedly) or 2016;
  • Variants or UAVs from the same family include Shahed-121, Shahed-123, Shahed-139.

shahed-136

Iranian drone Shahed-136

  • Developed in 2021 (but may have been produced as early as 2019 or earlier);
  • Operated by the IRGC;
  • Can be used for combat missions;
  • Range estimates range from 1300 kilometers (800 mi) to 2500 kilometers (1550 mi);
  • The payload may include a 40 kg (88 lb) warhead;
  • Flight time up to 40 minutes;
  • Thousands of units were exported to Russia between 2022 and early 2024;
  • Variants include the smaller Shahed-131 and the jet-powered Shahed-238.

Shahed-149 Gaza

Iranian drone Shahed-149 Gaza

  • Developed in 2021;
  • Operated by the IRGC;
  • Can be used for combat missions or reconnaissance and surveillance;
  • Flight range up to 2000 kilometers (1250 miles);
  • The payload can include up to 13 bombs or missiles weighing up to 34 kilograms (75 lb) each;
  • Flight time is up to 35 hours.

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