Russian cargo planes have quietly picked up the first of scores of Iranian-made combat drones for use against Ukraine, US officials said, in a move that underscores deepening ties between Moscow and Tehran.
Transport planes departed Iran on August 19 hauling at least two types of unmanned aerial vehicles, both capable of carrying munitions for attacks on radars, artillery and other military targets, according to intelligence gathered by US and other spy agencies.
But while the weapons could provide a significant boost for Russia’s war effort against Ukraine, the transfer has been marred by technical problems, security officials from the United States and an allied government said in interviews. In early tests by the Russians, the Iranian drones experienced numerous failures, the officials said.
“There are a few bugs in the system,” said an allied security official whose government closely monitored the transfer. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity and that his nationality not be revealed to discuss sensitive intelligence. “The Russians are not satisfied,” the official said.
The initial delivery of the Mohajer-6 and Shahed-series drones to Moscow is believed to be the first installment of a planned transfer of hundreds of Iranian UAVs of various types, Biden administration officials said, also speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity.
The arrival of the Iranian drones could help fill a crucial gap in Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine. Russia, which has 1,500 to 2,000 military surveillance UAVs, has relatively few attack drones of the type that can precisely strike targets deep inside enemy territory. Ukraine, by contrast, has used Turkish-made combat UAVs to wreak havoc on Russian armour, trucks and artillery since the early weeks of the conflict.
The Biden administration warned in July that Russia was preparing to acquire large numbers of Iranian drones to conduct air-to-surface attacks, electronic warfare and targeting on the battlefield in Ukraine.
Washington Post columnist David Ignatius reported last week that Iran had begun delivering the drones. But details of the transfer, including the types of UAVs provided and their purportedly lackluster performance so far, have not been previously reported.
In interviews, the US and allied security officials said Russian planes flew to an Iranian military facility to pick up the drones over several days in mid-August. The allied security official said the initial shipment included two models of Shahed drones, the Shahed-129 and Shahed-191, as well as the Mohajer-6.
All are considered to be among Iran’s top-of-the-line military drones, designed for attacks as well as surveillance.
The Washington Post