How did Iran develop its UAV programme despite over fifty years of sanctions?

Despite being subject to sanctions for close to 50 years, Iran has demonstrated a remarkable capacity for developing, manufacturing, and reverse engineering unmanned aerial vehicles. (UAV).

Iran has been interested in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) since the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s (1980-1988). The Ababil, often known as “flying bombs and bullets,” was Iran’s first generation of unmanned aerial vehicles. They were successfully employed on the front lines together with the reconnaissance UAVs created later.

Tehran made the decision to concentrate all of its resources on creating and developing UAVs after the war. Iran’s aviation sector is composed of a variety of technical and scientific organisations, factories for building and repairing aircraft, and businesses that produce related parts. Nearly every company in this sector, which is governed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), is somehow involved in the creation and manufacture of UAVs.

Iran then started producing the UAV in bulk. This can compensate for the Iranian Air Force’s inability to construct an entire aircraft.

Iran has made great strides in the design and manufacture of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), from small tactical surveillance vehicles to large assault and reconnaissance systems, including guided bombs and missiles. short range and the UAVs from the Kamikaze line (suicide UAVs).

These advancements are founded on a few fundamental ideas: scientific and technical cooperation, particularly with China; use of technologies and components acquired through formal, semi-formal, or informal (intelligence); and collection of US and Israeli UAV samples for in-depth analysis and ability to reverse engineer the design.

Iran has created 40 different UAV models to far, the most popular being Ababil, Kaman, Kian, Mohajer, and Shahed.

Experts claim that the Shahed, Mohajer, Kaman, and Kian lines are represented by Iran’s most potent and successful UAVs.


This is one of Iran’s most powerful unmanned aerial vehicles. This UAV model resembles the US RQ-1/MQ-1 Predator in appearance. The Shahed-129’s first flight took place in the spring of 2012.

Shahed is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that can perform aerial reconnaissance and attack missions since 2016. It can travel 1,700 km, has a 24-hour flight time, and can carry 400 kg of weapons in total, including the guided Sadid-345 precision line ammunition.

The Israeli Elbit Hermes 450 UAV that crashed in Iran is a replica of the Shahed-129. According to some reports, the Shahed-129 is a replica of the Chinese Wing Loong II and the US Predator UAV.


In 2020, Iran launched its most potent suicide UAV. According to the manufacturer, the Shahed-136 is a remotely piloted aircraft (UAV) that is used to attack ground targets from the air. Its operating range is 2,000 km, and it has a top speed of 180 km/h. However, American experts claim that its true range is only a few hundred km.

40–45 kg of explosives can be transported by the Shahed-136.

Shahed-149 Gaza

In April 2022, Shahed 149 Gaza completed its initial flight. This particular UAV variant is employed for ground-based target reconnaissance and attack. Shahed-149 Gaza has a 350 km/h top speed, a 35 hour operating period, and a 2,000 km range. The 21-meter-long, turboprop-powered Shahed-149 Gaza can transport 13 bombs and 500kg of electronics.

Shahed-171 Simorgh

The Shahed-171 Simorgh has the capacity to hit ground targets from the air and is useful for intelligence gathering and reconnaissance missions. It can go 2,000 kilometres at a speed of 460 km/h and for 10 hours. This UAV may transport a warhead in addition to carrying primarily electrical instruments.

The Shahed-171 Simorgh is a jet-powered aircraft with a “flying wing” design and current stealth technology. The US RQ-170 UAV that Iran seized in 2011 is exactly replicated in this object. Experts claim that the RQ-170 has far higher efficiency and capability than the Shahed 171 Simorgh.

Shahed-191 Saegheh-2

Syria currently employs this particular UAV model. The Shahed-191 Saegheh-2, a somewhat scaled-down version of the US RQ-170, underwent testing in October 2016.

The Shahed 191 Saegheh-2 has an operating range of 450km, a 4.5-hour flight time, and is capable of carrying high-precision ammunition. It is used for air-attack missions against ground targets.

Shahed-191 Saegheh-2 is capable of carrying two Sadid-1 missiles and 50 kg of various types of armaments.

Kaman 22

The first wide-body UAV in Iran, known as Kaman 22, was tested on February 24, 2021, and it can carry any kind of weaponry.

The Kaman 22 has a 3000 km range, a 24 hour operating time, and can carry 300 kg of explosives and specialised equipment. It is used for aerial reconnaissance missions and strikes against targets.

This UAV model is based on the US MQ-1 Predator UAV and has more sophisticated MQ-9 Reaper characteristics. The Kaman 22 also resembles the Chinese CH-5 UAV.

Kian 2 or Arash 2

The air defence system’s radars can detect massive suicide drones like the Kian 2 or Arash 2 at a distance of roughly 1,000–2,000 km, and they are intended to strike important infrastructure. Urban infrastructure is allegedly the Arash UAV’s primary target during “strategic strikes.”

Arash 2 can carry 260kg of explosives and has a range of 1,000–2,000 miles.

Qods Mohajer-6

This is a synthetic UAV model with a rectangular body, tested in the first half of 2017. The Qods Mohajer-6 is utilised for aerial ground attacks as well as surveillance missions. A glide bomb or an Almas guided missile can be carried with four precision-guided weapons, which have a 12-hour working time and a 200-kilometer range.

Iran has generally advanced in the field of drones in recent decades. Iran has established an industry that is capable of frequently creating new UAV models and putting them into production by utilising various, occasionally illegal, channels and chances. Future predictions indicate that this trend will persist.

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