Iran’s army and navy have unveiled a new offshore “drone division” made up of drone-carrying warships, including a submarine.
Videos and images released by Iranian state media show two ships and a Kilo-class submarine engaged in launching a range of armed and unarmed drones, including the VTOL Pelican surveillance drone, Homa, the “suicide drone” Arash, Chamrosh, Zhubin, the 1980s-era Ababil and the Bavar 5.
The ships included the Scottish-built IRIS amphib lavender (commissioned 1985) and Pakistani-built auxiliary IRIS Delvar (ordered in 1982). Also present was the KiloIRIS-class submarine Taregh (Tarek), which launched a small portable drone from the deck after surfacing.
Iran also announced plans to increase the number of its dedicated ground drone units to five from the current single unit, thereby expanding its domestic launch capability.
These developments are remarkable in light of the long-running covert conflict between Iran and Israel, which has included a series of tit-for-tat attacks on each nation’s respective merchant ships. 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 US State Department that Iran is preparing to sell hundreds of weapons-capable drones to Russia, likely for use against Ukrainian forces.
The Islamic Republic of Iran Navy announces a new division of UAV drone carriers with launch from three ships – the Kilo class submarine Tareq (901), the auxiliary ship Delvar (471) and the landing ship Lavan (514) – July 15, 2022
— WarshipCam (@WarshipCam) July 15, 2022
Placement of 50 Iranian sea-based vertical take-off drones on logistics vessels and the Iranian Navy’s Tarik submarine.
Iran has unveiled the first fleet of ships and submarines capable of carrying armed drones. pic.twitter.com/QJ1nMzKMFE
— Spriteer (@spriteer_774400) July 16, 2022
As the impending sale to Russia shows, Iran is marketing its cheap but capable drones for export and supplying them to proxy forces in the Middle East. A proven naval launch capability can help market it.
Export sales are part of Iran’s defense diplomacy, and its representatives do not hesitate to do so. In March, US officials were surprised to encounter members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps selling missiles and drones at a booth at the DIMDEX maritime security trade show in Qatar. According to Arab News, the IRGC has set up shop right next to US drone maker General Atomics, as friendly competitors at the Sea-Air-Space show. (The United States considers the IRGC to be a terrorist organization.)
Iran’s presence at the show prompted a denunciation from the US State Department, which called for Iran’s exclusion on the grounds that it “single-handedly threatens maritime stability in the entire Gulf region”.
“Iranian weapons-related transactions are generally sanctioned by multiple U.S. authorities, including terrorism and weapons of mass destruction sanctions,” State Department spokesman Ned Price warned in a statement.