Posted on July 18, 2022
The Iranian Army and Navy have unveiled a new seagoing “drone division” of UAV-carrying warships, including one submarine.
Videos and imagery released by Iranian state media show two vessels and one Kilo-class sub engaged in launching a range of armed and unarmed drones, including the VTOL surveillance drone Pelican, Homa, the “suicide drone” Arash, Chamrosh, Zhubin, the 1980s-era Ababil and the Bavar 5.
The vessels included the Scottish-built amphib IRIS Lavan (commissioned 1985) and the Pakistani-built auxiliary IRIS Delvar (commissioned 1982). Also present was the Kilo-class submarine IRIS Taregh (Tareq), which launched a small man-portable drone from the deck after surfacing.
Iran has also announced plans to expand the number of its dedicated shore-based drone units to five from the current single unit, expanding its domestic launch capability.
These developments are noteworthy in light of the long-running covert conflict between Iran and Israel, which has included a string of tit-for-tat attacks on each nation’s respective merchant vessels. Iranian drones and cruise missiles have been implicated in some of these strikes, and a sea-launch capability raises the stakes for the defense of Israeli shipping.
The drone exercise also comes shortly after a warning from the U.S. State Department that Iran is preparing to sell hundreds of weapons-capable drones to Russia, likely for use against Ukrainian forces.
As the pending sale to Russia demonstrates, Iran markets its low-cost but capable drones for export and supplies them to proxy forces in the Middle East. A proven naval launch capability may help with its marketing.
Export sales are a part of Iran’s defense diplomacy, and its representatives are not shy about it. In March, U.S. officials were surprised to run into members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps selling missiles and drones at a booth at Qatar’s DIMDEX maritime security trade show. According to Arab News, the IRGC set up shop at a position right next to U.S. drone maker General Atomics, like friendly competitors at the Sea-Air-Space show. (The U.S. considers the IRGC a terrorist organization.)
The Iranian presence at the show drew a denunciation from the U.S. State Department, which called for Iran’s exclusion on the grounds that it “single-handedly is threatening maritime stability throughout the Gulf region.”
“Transactions related to Iranian weapons are generally sanctionable under multiple U.S. authorities, including sanctions related to terrorism and weapons of mass destruction,” warned State Department spokesman Ned Price in a statement.