Despite being under sanctions for nearly half a century, Iran has shown a remarkable ability to develop and build its own unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Iran became interested in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988). The first UAV series is Ababil with a simple operating mechanism. Together with the reconnaissance UAVs developed later, they were effectively used by Iran on the front lines. In the post-war period, Tehran decided to focus entirely on the development and production of unmanned aircraft systems.

Iran’s aviation industry includes a number of scientific and technical organizations, aircraft manufacturing and repair factories, as well as many related enterprises that manufacture various UAV parts. Almost all enterprises in this industry, overseen by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), are directly or indirectly involved in the development and construction of UAVs.

Iran then began mass-producing UAVs. This is supposed to help offset the Air Force’s limited capacity, including the inability to build a complete fighter jet due to international sanctions. Iran has made significant progress in the development and construction of UAVs of all major classes, from light tactical reconnaissance vehicles to heavy attack and reconnaissance systems, both guided bombs and short-range missiles to lethal weapons and especially “suicide” UAVs – supposedly used in Ukraine recently.

That progress is based on a few basic principles: scientific and technical cooperation, mainly with China; use technologies and components for their own production; collect American and Israeli UAVs for deep research and reverse engineering. Therefore, despite being under sanctions from the US and the West for the past 43 years, Iran is still self-sufficient in developing and manufacturing UAVs, even making significant progress.

So far, Iran has produced about 40 different drone models. The main Iranian UAVs are Ababil, Kaman, Kian, Mohajer and Shahed. According to experts, Iran’s most effective and powerful drones include the Shahed, Mohajer, Kaman and Kian. In particular, Shahed 129 is considered one of the most capable UAVs in Iran’s arsenal. Visually, it is very similar to the American RQ-1/MQ-1 Predator. This UAV made its first flight in the spring of 2012. Another, the Shahed 136, is Iran’s most effective “suicide” UAV, first introduced in 2020. Ukraine accuses Russia of using the drone to attack its energy infrastructure.

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