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The Drone Index: ASF SSJO Kaman-12

March 11, 2019

Via Iranian media.

Ever since the Trump administration’s exit from the JCPOA last year, Iran has struck a defiant tone and ratcheted its propaganda. Homegrown innovation plays into this strategy, where the Islamic Republic casts itself as a regional giant bedeviled by enemies, and the recent Eghtedar 40 exhibition in Tehran served as the perfect venue for showing off the country’s drone power. A whole section of the indoor venue was occupied by an array of unmanned aircraft with the newest among them hailed by the local press.

This March, with Eghtedar 40 over and done with, Iranian media announced a twin-boom model called the Kaman-12 is entering production.

Developed by the military’s “Self Sufficiency Jihad Organization,” there’s little to share about the Kaman-12 that Iranian sources haven’t revealed. With its resemblance to the IAI Heron and bulging nose blister, its primary role is surveillance over vast distances. There are no hardpoints on its wings, which means its only payload are avionics and an EO camera on a gimbal installed in front of the tricycle landing gear. But the contoured shape of its fuselage is interesting. Iran may boast of its advances in drone technology, but for the longest time it relied on simple designs copied from foreign models.

Iranian media claim the Kaman-12 has a mission endurance of 10 hours and can fly a 1,000 kilometer radius. These are standard for medium altitude twin-boom UAVs but the endurance is below par considering how Iranian officials emphasize their love for world-class “self-sufficiency.” It’s too early to envision the deployment of the Kaman-12 anywhere or with whom. (The Revolutionary Guard and the regular armed forces have separate drone requirements.) Iranian drone manufacturing is a messy affair, with different organizations assigned their own projects. The Kaman-12 does look like a viable replacement for the Mohajer-series of twin-boom UAVs.

It wasn’t until January 2021 when a new variant of the Kaman-12 with a different paint scheme was put on display for the Revolutionary Guard’s leadership. The occasion was meant to advertise the latest innovations of homegrown military drones. This Kaman-12 had a larger wingspan and was able to carry munitions such as air-to-ground missiles on four hardpoints. This makes it similar to the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 whose reputation got boosted by extensive use in Libya and Syria where they eliminated dozes of ground targets. Considering the nature of Iran’s current battles in the Middle East having a medium altitude drone for close air support is a vital asset for commanders in complex operational environments.

The bulbous nose blister on the Kaman-12, taken together with its curved winglets, suggests it’s the end result of new production technology. A large blister also justifies navigation equipment such as a satellite uplink, maybe it’s paired with synthetic aperture radar, so this might be the Kaman-12’s best feature yet. Indeed, Iranian media have broadcast news about additive manufacturing and laser peen shocking (LSP) that are both available to government agencies. The latter is a remarkable process of hardening airframe surfaces using laser bursts. If the Kaman-12 is a demonstrator for new engineering and design practices for unmanned systems, then Iran can truly cast itself a world leader in this niche.

Once again, if the Kaman-12 is the direction for further advances in Iranian autonomous tech and robotics, its adversaries must take note. Various entities connected with military production for the government now have better resources at their disposal to meet strategic goals. Given Iran’s mastery of various drone models, be they handheld, propeller-driven, or jet powered, applying new materials to a new generation of unmanned aircraft boosts Tehran’s leverage against its neighbors.

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