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Iranian Combat Drone Production Is Non-Stop

April 24, 2022
Via Iranian media.

At a military parade in Tehran last week the country’s regular armed forces showed off their equipment such as the latest unmanned aircraft that are entering service. An unexpected model was the “Ababil-5” or “Ababil 5” that’s supposed to be the most recent addition in a storied drone lineage. These combat UAVs arrived in two variants at the parade–a twin-boom with four munitions under its wings and another twin-boom carrying six munitions under its wings. A strange detail about the Ababil-5 is its larger variant (pictured above) was on public display in its yellowish anti-rust coating. This is one of the last stages in aircraft assembly where the airframe and its appendages are given a weather resistant finish before they’re painted.

The appearance of these new drones was the annual commemorative “Army Day” for all the military branches. It seems the Ababil-5’s public debut was too hasty as it was put on the bed of a truck, never mind the missing color scheme, and armed with three laser-guided bombs on the hardpoints under its wings. The Ababil-5 was joined by many different combat drones such as the Kaman-22, the Kaman-12, the Mohajer-6, and various loitering munitions. An important distinction about the military parade and its contents were the armed forces’ participation rather then the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) who have their own commemorative events scheduled in September during the “Sacred Defense” week. This means combat drones like the Ababil-5 are meant for the army and air force rather than the IRGC who maintain a separate drone fleet.

Available photographs of the Ababil-5 reveal many small improvements in its airframe compared to earlier drone models. It’s certainly a leap ahead of the Mohajer-series that originated in the 1980s. While its performance characteristics are unavailable for now–the three blades of its propeller engine have serious implications for its flight altitude, endurance, and speed–its intended role is unambiguous, being optimized for performing strike missions with a significant payload. Iran faces threats from all directions and its regular armed forces are steeped in territorial defense. The Ababil-5’s future missions aren’t difficult to imagine as the shared border with Afghanistan, the Caspian coast, the waters of the Gulf, and Northern Iraq are just some theaters where it can be flown soon.

The sudden appearance of the Ababil-5 fits an unmissable pattern that stretches back at least three years. From 2019 until the present, despite the country’s severe economic problems, Iran’s aerospace manufacturing sector kept assembling newer combat drones. In the span of just three years the Kaman-series of combat drones were unveiled beginning with the Kaman-12, first as a medium altitude twin-boom model that was subsequently armed with its own payload, and by early 2021 the Kaman-22 was teased and now appears in service. In the middle of 2021 the IRGC then revealed its Gaza high altitude combat drone that looks like the biggest unmanned aircraft assembled in Iran since the twin-boom Fotros MALE drone that also carries bombs and missiles. In the same year the Kaman-22 and the Gaza were introduced the mass-production of loitering munitions accelerated and the Artesh and IRGC now have thousands in storage.

There are at least two other unmanned aircraft under development by Iran’s aerospace sector. These are a twin propeller engine high altitude model whose mock up is already known and the jet-powered model called the Shahed-171 that was revealed in 2020 but whose status is uncertain. The Shahed-171, also known as the “Simorgh,” is a further evolution of the “Saegheh” family of stealthy jet-powered drones that utilize a flying wing airframe. The rapid iteration of drone families for Iran’s military branches is in close competition with similar programs by Israel and Turkey. But for all its problems Iran’s aerospace sector is inching ahead.

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