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Iran Has A New Long-Range Drone In The Works

October 22, 2019

Via Iranian media.

Photos of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni at a recent exhibition in Tehran this month revealed how fast the domestic aerospace sector is developing. The visit on October 8, a Tuesday, was meant to publicize an event for “Knowledge-based Enterprises and Advanced Technologies” but was overshadowed by an intense news cycle. In fact, the next day marked the beginning of Turkey’s assault on the Kurds in northeast Syria, a very unwelcome development condemned by Iran.

During the exhibition, however, Khameni was treated to a briefing on a mysterious new twin-engine drone.

The actual name along with other relevant details for it was never revealed but the mock up represented a new direction in Iranian unmanned aircraft, which have been getting smaller these past few years. Being a mock up for an airframe–it was shown mounted on rollers instead of its landing gear–the important takeaways were its actual size once prototype and its intended purpose. Twin-boom UAVs, which are recognizable for their separated tail sections connecting to the wings, are ideal designs for light aircraft that can fly off short runways and support large payloads. Iran’s state-owned aerospace sector is responsible for numerous models of this type and the largest to date, the Fotros, is equipped for surveillance and ground attack roles.

The mock up that Khameni beheld had a crucial difference from the Fotros: it has two propeller engines. The Fotros itself shares a close resemblance to Israel’s Super Heron. Official statements attributed to the Supreme Leader didn’t acknowledge the drone but he did promise using the country’s National Development Fund (NDF), a sovereign wealth entity valued at $65 billion, for boosting local companies. The NDF, weighed down by sanctions, is Iran’s largest investment firm with 50% of its assets tied to the country’s private sector. This suggests any progress with the new twin engine UAV model is a direct result of the Iranian government funding a local manufacturer. The implications are serious now that the Islamic Republic is committed to upgrading every facet of its military.

A twin-boom UAV powered by two propeller engines is bound to be large and judging by the shape of its airframe the Tehran mock up will support a high definition camera on a gimbal under the nose. As an intelligence and surveillance aircraft it might be able to perform missions spanning an uninterrupted 24 hours (or longer) at high altitude and covering distances far beyond Iran’s borders. Earlier this year Turkey’s state-owned aircraft manufacturer put its Aksungur combat drone on display. Capable of delivering bombs and other ordnance on its wings, the Aksungur is a twin-boom model with dual engines installed on its wings. Of course, Iranian drone makers know how to weaponize UAVs.

Iranian unmanned aircraft have flourished this decade. The drawn out Syrian Civil War became a testing ground for the Revolutionary Guards’ drones and the conflict that engulfed Yemen justified significant exports of various models to a willing partner, the Houthis. Last month, the surprise attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities on September 14 marked the first inter-state drone swarm airstrikes at extended ranges. Aside from grabbing headlines everywhere the bombardment of Abqaiq and Khurais left no casualties but inflicted economic damage that has cowed the Saudis. Furthermore, Iran proved its locally made precision weapons work as intended and these reached their targets without alerting Saudi air defenses.

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