Iran Has Been Building up a Drone Program for Years. We're About to See it in Action in Iraq. 

How It Works
June 25 2014 12:27 PM

Iranian Drones Head to Iraq

Nic6214659
The new Iranian made drone 'Epic' seen during a ceremony in Tehran on May 9, 2013.

Photo by HEMMAT KHAHI/AFP/Getty Images

U.S. officials believe that Iran is directing surveillance drone flights over Iraq as it steps up its security assistance to Nuri al-Maliki’s government, joining the American drones already flying sorties over the country.

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

Iran’s drone program hasn’t gotten as much attention in the U.S. as some of its other military initiatives, but the country is a bona fide drone power, with an extensive unmanned aerial vehicle program dating back to the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

Advertisement

The program has expanded dramatically in recent years with more than a dozen models including, the recently introduced Fotros, it’s largest drone yet with a range up 1,200 miles. Iran is one of just five countries with operationally deployed armed drones (The others are the United States, Britain, Israel, and China.)

Iranian drones have been spotted over the battlefields of Syria. Tehran is helping Venezuela build a drone program of its own. And Israel has on several occasions shot down Iranian-made drones operated by Hezbollah.

The Iranian craft may not be quite as advanced as their U.S. counterparts. According to a RAND report issued earlier this year, Iran is still “unable to develop UAVs that can cruise high enough to avoid terrain yet low enough to avoid radar, especially against enemies on high alert, such as Israel or U.S. bases in the Middle East.” But the program may also have gotten a boost after a U.S. surveillance drone that crashed in the country in 2011 was reverse engineered.

Accordin to the GAO, the number of countries with drone programs doubled from 40 to 75 between 2005 and 2011 and we may be fast approaching a world where nearly every military possesses armed drones. With an eye on Iran, Saudi Arabia recently announced plans to acquire armed drones from China. 

The normalization of military drones has been coming for a while, but all the same, a situation in which U.S. and Iranian drones are operating in the same theater – not to mention keeping any eye on the same target – feels like something of a milestone. 

    

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

TODAY IN SLATE

War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

The One National Holiday Republicans Hope You Forget

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

Should You Recline Your Seat? Two Economists Weigh In.

Doublex

It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

Use Facebook to Reconnect With Old Friends, Share Photos, and Serve People With Legal Papers

  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 23 2014 6:40 PM Coalition of the Presentable Don’t believe the official version. Meet America’s real allies in the fight against ISIS.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
  Life
Outward
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would a Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 4:45 PM Why Is Autumn the Only Season With Two Names?
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 5:36 PM This Climate Change Poem Moved World Leaders to Tears Today
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 23 2014 4:33 PM Who Deserves Those 4 Inches of Airplane Seat Space? An investigation into the economics of reclining.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 23 2014 7:27 PM You’re Fired, Roger Goodell If the commissioner gets the ax, the NFL would still need a better justice system. What would that look like?