Is Iran seeking to become a bona fide arms exporter with the sale of drones to Russia?
As October 18, 2020, the expiration date of the UN arms embargo against Iran, approached, there was widespread speculation that Tehran would seek to modernize its aging military arsenal by importing Russian equipment. . A Pentagon report released the year before, for example, reasonably speculated that Iran might be looking for Russian Su-30 fighter jets, S-400 air defense missile systems and main battle tanks. T-90.
Tehran, however, far from signaling what weapons it might want to import, has proclaimed its willingness to export military equipment after the expiry of the embargo. As early as August 2019, an Iranian press article claimed that Russia had shown potential interest in buying Iranian drones.
Now, less than three years later, the White House assertion that Russia is interested in acquiring Iranian drones – and that Russian officials have visited Iran twice to examine different models, including the Shahed-191 and the Shahed-129 – is therefore, not so surprising.
(A Guardian report in April even claimed that Iran was already supplying Russia with ammunition and military equipment – such as RPGs, anti-tank missiles and rocket launchers – from its militia proxies in Iraq and has even donated one of its locally built Bavar 373 air defense systems, Tehran’s answer to the Russian S-300, to Moscow.)
Such a sale could provide Russia with a substantial number of armed drones at a time when Moscow has run out of large amounts of its ammunition. The White House claim that Iran is “preparing to supply Russia with up to several hundred” drones suggests, as has already been speculated by expertsthat it could be a large number of floating munitions, also known as kamikazes or “suicide” drones.
Russia may well urgently need hundreds of stray munitions to bolster its firepower. Incidents such as its infamous Kh-22 anti-ship missile launch at the Ukrainian trading center in late June and the use of S-300 air defense missiles against land targets clearly indicate that there are significant shortages in Russian stocks of ballistic and cruise missiles. Large amounts of cheap vagrant ammunition could serve as a substitute, although far from perfect.
And Tehran would probably gladly accept Russian rubles as payment. During Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent visit to Tehran, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said countries should use their national currencies in trade transactions to weaken the US dollar. Moreover, accepting Russian rubles would be beneficial for Tehran since, alongside the Iranian currency’s record slump, the ruble has far exceeded expectations, hitting a seven-year high in June and becoming the best-performing currency in the world.
Iran would also like the opportunity to compete with Turkey’s famous local Bayraktar TB2 drone, which has received another publicity boost thanks to its successful combat use in Ukrainian service. If Iranian-made drones in Russian service are running lightly too, that could help boost sales.
Iran distinguishing itself as an independent exporter rather than an importer of military equipment would undoubtedly be a source of pride for the regime in place in Tehran. Rather than upgrading its aging conventional forces, particularly its antiquated air force, Iran has doggedly pursued the development of indigenous armed drones and ballistic missiles as part of its strategy to develop its war capabilities. asymmetric.
More generally, the relatively low price of Iranian weaponry makes it an affordable and even desirable option for pariah states and unpopular regimes around the world. Potential technology transfer offers – Iran inaugurated a factory to build its Ababil-2 drones in Tajikistan in mid-May – could also sweeten any potential deal.
When Iran was an international pariah fighting Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the 1980s, it looked to North Korea for help in developing and building ballistic missiles, which gradually led to to deploy the largest and most diverse arsenal of these missiles across the country. Region. Tehran could offer similar services to countries like Putin’s Russia, boosting Tehran’s domestic arms industry and providing it with a source of revenue as it suffers from debilitating US economic sanctions.
Although time will tell, a major drone deal with Russia, if it materializes, could become the first major step in Iran’s long-term goal of becoming a good arms exporter. faith.