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Iran Is Itching To Export Combat Drones

March 13, 2022
A Mohajer-6 UCAV on display at IQDEX 2022. Via Iraq defense ministry.

Arms shows are back in full force across the Middle East and this year offers a bewildering calendar of these events. One over the top example is the recent World Defense Show in Saudi Arabia that took on an immense scale to establish its brand but smaller and concurrent exhibitions still attracted international exhibitors. IQDEX 2022 in Baghdad from March 2 to 5 occupied a single indoor venue but featured a lot of big names. A genuine surprise was the unexpected presence of Iran’s military-industrial sector whose enterprises weren’t even named on the exhibitor list. But video clips shared by Iraq’s defense ministry revealed the hardware they wanted to sell.

Two recognizable Iranian entities participating at IQDEX 2022 are the Defense Industries Organization (DIO) and the Aerospace Industries Organization (AIO). These two conglomerates are responsible for the country’s armaments manufacturing. The AIO in particular occupied a sizable booth with scale models of its better known products. Among them was a Mohajer-series combat drone. Iran has transferred drones to Iraq before especially in the difficult war years against ISIS. But the notorious PMF’s that are full of Tehran’s proxies were the main recipients then and they still have their own inventories of drones.

Judging by the visual evidence it looks like a Mohajer-6 was put on display at the AIO’s booth. It’s a medium altitude drone with a twin-boom layout supported by tricycle landing gear and capable of automatic take off and landing. The Mohajer-series are among the oldest “families” of unmanned aircraft assembled by Iran as these were first used during the Iran-Iraq War (alternately referred to as the “Imposed War” and the “Sacred Defense”) and remained in continuous production since then. By the 2000s the Mohajers could be armed with munitions. Today their larger variants carry a total of four bombs or missiles on their wings. The Mohajer-6 in particular still lags behind its peers when it comes to endurance, or how long it can fly during a mission, and the distances it travels within range of its control station.

Iran’s history of exporting its unmanned systems is a problematic one. Unlike Turkey, where manufacturers such as Baykar and TAI are aggressively seeking potential operators in four continents, Iran’s efforts go back farther but are illicit–this explains the drone capabilities of Hezbollah and Ansar Allah in Yemen. To the credit of the AIO the drones its companies assemble perform as intended and are equipped for close air support and long-range precision strikes; the past decade of regional instability created whole theaters for their use. Israel’s own record of eliminating Iranian drones entering its airspace is compelling evidence these present a threat wherever they are flown.

Venezuela is the first known operator of the Mohajer-6 outside Iran. It’s suspected a production line was established in the country for assembling them. Ethiopia and Libya are two other countries, both of which are still afflicted by civil war, where Iranian-made Mohajer-series drones are reported to have been delivered. There’s no indication of any agreement between Iraq’s defense ministry and Iran’s military-industrial sector after the IQDEX 2022 arms show. But the fact remains a lot of Iranian-made weaponry is found in Iraq and the threat posed by ISIS along the shared border with Syria will motivate Tehran’s off-the-books arms exports to its troubled neighbor. Exhibitors from the Czech Republic, China, France, and Pakistan were at IQDEX 2022 as well although a strong US presence appeared to be lacking.

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