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Iran Has A Lot Of New Combat Drones

February 4, 2021
Via Iranian media.

A stalemate now hangs over the Middle East pitting a defiant Islamic Republic against a loose coalition involving the US, Gulf monarchies, and Israel. With diplomacy rendered useless these past several years Iran’s military industries have accelerated their output of new weapon systems for all domains. The results so far are inarguable. A much publicized showcase of unmanned aircraft in January served as a stark reminder how formidable the Artesh and Revolutionary Guards’ (IRGC) drone arsenal is.

At an indoor exhibition at the same event a variety of fixed wing UAVs were on static display for the attending VIPs. Among the models was an armed variant of the twin-boom Kaman-12 or “Kaman12” with a new paint scheme for the Iranian air force (IRIAF). Unveiled in 2019 during the commemorative activities surrounding Eghtedar 40–the anniversary of the 1979 revolution–the Kaman-12/Kaman12 is best described as a generational improvement over the longstanding Mohajer-series of twin-boom medium altitude drones. An essential feature of the Kaman-12 is the bulbous dome at the front of its airframe; this usually indicates improved terrain mapping and navigation.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is iranian-kaman-12-combar-drone-january-2020.jpg
Frontal view of the Kaman-12. Via Iranian media.

It appears the IRIAF adopted the Kaman-12 immediately and now enhanced it with an armed variant. Seen in the photos from Iranian media are four laser-guided bombs on hardpoints underneath the wings. This makes the Kaman-12 suited for carrying out strikes against static and mobile ground targets. The Iranian military’s usage of armed drones goes back four decades and is only matched by Israel’s own capabilities in drone warfare. Exact performance characteristics of the Kaman-12 remain elusive but it’s assumed its flight range reaches 1,000 kilometers–when flown from Iran’s coastline the distance covers much of the Arabian peninsula. This armed Kaman-12, whose larger engine has three propellers rather than just two, must surely have greater range and mission endurance.

Putting together an exact list of armed drones in service with Iran’s military is difficult because their variety is confusing. When it comes to just fixed-wing armed drones the Kaman-12 joins as many as 10 different aircraft that include a family of jet-powered flying wing models. Loitering munitions are another bewildering selection.

While the rest of the Middle East is an attractive market for military drones, advances such as the Kaman-12 along with Turkey’s Bayraktar TB2 have put regional aerospace technology on the ascendant, albeit outside the influence of a US-led alliance system. This rapid evolution is so startling that not even militaries in the NATO alliance have managed to roll out a combat drone fleet as cost-effective and diverse. As of this writing, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey have developed localized armed drones for their own uses and by doing so added new dimensions to their once limited airpower. By comparison, the bloated military budgets of the GCC and other Arab states have only managed to afford imported Chinese models whose service lives are reliant on continuous technical support from the supplier. US-made armed drones for its allies in the region are forthcoming and constrained by Washington, DC’s foreign policy goals.

When it comes to the Kaman-12 the Iranian military will have no problem fielding these in large numbers along with appropriate munitions. Another intriguing model at the same event, where as many as a hundred UAVs were displayed, is a loitering munition carried and launched on the back of a truck. Its size and layout gives it the appearance of a cruise missile and its impending mass-production should be taken by the GCC as fair warning as their collective air defenses have limited viability against drone swarms. This is why the public record of attacks on energy infrastructure and military bases orchestrated by the IRGC must be taken into account when assessing the cumulative airpower Iran is amassing with its ever-growing drone fleet.

Like its diverse missile arsenal, Iran puts its rivals at a disadvantage by mass-producing cost-effective combat drones for a multitude of roles. Iran’s rivals, on the other hand, must deter these with expensive air defense networks acquired from abroad.

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