Tag Archives: Unmanned aerial vehicle

Iranian UAVs In Africa

March 18, 2012: Sudanese rebels claimed to have recently shot down an Iranian Ababil UAV near the border with South Soudan. The Sudanese government eventually admitted it had lost another UAV, but said it went down do to component failure, not ground fire. Whatever the case, it is not the first time the Sudanese have lost one of their Iranian made UAVs. Several have been reported lost over the last three years.

English: An Iranian ababil made by me.

The Iranians have been developing UAVs since the 1980s. The ones used by Sudan are the Ababil. This is an 82 kg (183 pound) UAV with a 3.2 meter (ten foot) wing span, a payload of about 35 kg (77 pounds), a cruising speed of 290 kilometers an hour and an endurance of 90 minutes. The Ababil is known to operate as far as 150 kilometers from its ground controller. But it also has a guidance system that allows it to fly a pre-programmed route and then return to the control by its ground controllers for a landing (which is by parachute). The Ababil can carry a variety of day and night still and video cameras. There are many inexpensive and very capable cameras available on the open market, as is the equipment needed to transmit video and pictures back to the ground.

The Ababil is also used in Lebanon, where Iranian backed Hezbollah has received about a dozen of them. The Israelis feared that the low flying Ababils could come south carrying a load of nerve gas, or even just explosives. Using GPS guidance, such a UAV could hit targets very accurately. Moreover, there’s nothing exotic about UAV technology, at least for something like the Ababil. Iranian UAV development got a boost from American UAVs received in the 1970s (Firebee target drones.)

Iran also has a larger (174 kg/382 pounds) Mohajer IV UAV, the latest model of a line that began in the 1980s. The Mohajer II is about the same size as the Ababil.

From Strategy Page


Iran’s shiny new Venezuelan Drone Factory

Iran is planning to build drones for the Venezuelan military. Just so you know, it sounds worse than it is. Sure it isn’t.. From WiredThat’s according to Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, chief of U.S. forces in South America. According to Fraser, who spoketo reporters in Washington on Wednesday, the drones are to be manufactured in Venezuela with Iranian help and will likely be used for “internal defense.” The exact kind of drones isn’t clear. But the robots are probably too small to be armed.

“I would put it in the ScanEagle class of UAV,” Fraser told U.S. News & World Reports military blog DOTMIL. “It’s not up into the Predator class.”

The ScanEagle is a small, unarmed, catapult-launched U.S. spy drone used by special operations forces. If Iran’s design for the drone’s speed and range are comparable, it’s highly, highly unlikely the flimsy robot could reach Miami from Venezuela to snap some pictures or take some video. Even allowing for the theoretical possibility that an aircraft built to loiter could max out its engine, top speeds and fuel supply for the 1,200-mile trip, it couldn’t go north of Florida, and it definitely couldn’t make it home.

In other words, don’t expect the skies above Sheboygan to fill up with Iranian killing machines under the order of Hugo Chavez. Assuming Venezuela could get them off the ground: Fraser said a fire recently broke out at the drone’s manufacturing plant, delaying its production. But think of it this way: an actual Iranian-Venezuelan drone factory exists, representing an upgrade in industrial cooperation from earlier joint projects like dairy plants and a tractor factory.

More seriously, U.S. officials also don’t know if technology acquired from a CIA-operated drone that crashed in Iran last year has made it into the design. Routine drone design characteristics, like engines, are easy to duplicate, but the advanced sensors and other secret gear on the RQ-170 “Beast of Kandahar” are a different matter. The Iranians may not know how to even use the software or get past potential (classified) anti-tamper measures.

It’s also not likely to change the balance of Latin American drone power. Brazil has spent more than $350 million on advanced Israeli-made drones for surveillance operations above the Amazon rainforest and along Brazil’s long, porous borders. Israel has also prohibited Brazil, which depends on its relationship with Israeli firms for their drone designs, from selling the drones to Chavez.

Whatever their specifications, the new drones are tailor made to sew panic in Congress and the blogosphere about the Venezuela-Iran Legion of Doom. In February, a hearing by the House Foreign Affairs Committee raised concerns about “the threat to U.S. national security posed by Iranian and Iranian-sponsored activities in our own Western Hemisphere,” said committee chair Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican. The committee pointed to media reports suggesting increased activity in Latin America by Hezbollah and the Iranian Qods Force.

The Obama administration is rolling its eyes. “People talk about Hezbollah. They talk about Iranian support for weapons and the rest. I guarantee you, Iran will not be able to pose a hemispheric threat to the United States,” Vice President Joe Biden, who is spending the week in Mexico and Honduras, said on Wednesday. Last May, the administration also denied (now discredited) reports Iran was building a long-range missile base in Venezuela.

But it is a sign that the Venezuelan military is increasing its ties to Iran. Before, the extent of Iranian-Venezuelan cooperation was primarily limited to rhetorical attacks on the U.S. and poorly-managed joint economic projects. ”They are working to build diplomatic relations [and] international support to counter the sanctions,” Fraser said.

Joint military projects are an important feature of such relationships. But surveillance drones are still a military project. It’s a bit riskier than just another tractor factory.

by Robert Beckhusen