On December 4, 2011, Iranian forces seized an American RQ-170 Sentinel reconnaissance drone near the city of Kashmar. The RQ-170 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), another term for a drone, was believed to be running surveillance of Iranian nuclear facilities when Iran’s cyber warfare unit took control of the aircraft and brought it down. The Iranian government claimed that the aircraft was in clear contravention of international law by blatantly entering Iranian airspace. After acknowledging that the UAV was in fact part of undisclosed CIA missions, President Obama requested that the drone be returned to the United States. In response, General Hossein Salami, deputy commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), stated, “No nation welcomes other countries’ spy drones in its territory, and no one sends back the spying equipment and its information back to the country of origin” (1). The perceived disrespect by the U.S. administration fueled the Iranians to use RQ-170 Sentinel as a way to further their own combat drone technology.
Five years later, on October 1, 2016, Iran’s IRGC unveiled its newly manufactured combat UAV named Saeqeh (Thunderbolt). The IRGC’s Aerospace Division revealed Saeqeh at a showcase displaying its latest advancements in UAV technology. Saeqeh is long-range combat drone equipped with four smart-guided bombs. Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of Aerospace Force of the IRGC, described that Saeqeh has the capability of detonating four different targets with precision and returning to base safely. The ability for the drone to carry out long operations with such accuracy is an impressive feat in Iran’s growing UAV industry. The Iranian drone is one of the Simorgh drone class and a product made by the reverse engineering of the American RQ-170 Sentinel that could not be reacquired by the U.S. government. Saeqeh is portrayed as the first in a series of drones that Iran declares will have both civilian and military use.
The IRGC’s strategy is focused on attaining self-sufficiency in producing advanced military systems based on deterrence. General Hajizadeh finds it imperative that Iran does not halt its development of new UAVs, stating, “The enemy is continuing down the path of hostility, and we should continue our course for reinforcing our might for defense against the enemy” (2). The commander claims that the latest achievements place Iran among the top four nations in the world in the UAV industry. Hajizadeh also asserts that Iran now has better aviation systems and equipment than the U.S. Only time will tell if Hajizadeh’s assertion is accurate, but his statements have garnered the attention of the U.S. military.
One of the U.S. government’s concerns lies in the possibility of Iran distributing these new technologies to nations such as Russia or China. The past two years have seen Iran make significant breakthroughs in its defense sectors. In 2010, the U.S. and other nations placed sanctions on Iranian forces with the goal of severely limiting the growth of their nuclear programs. In 2015, the Western sanctions that had been placed on the Iranian military were reformed into an agreement that allowed Iran to redesign its nuclear facilities for the means of producing nuclear fuels. As a result, Iran has been taking advantage of the agreement and producing new machinery at a notable pace. Their weaponry is thought to range from UAVs to rocket and artillery systems. The IRGC stresses that its military operations pose no threat to other nations. Nonetheless, its rapidly evolving technologies will force Western nations, especially the U.S., to keep a watchful eye on the Iranian military.
(1) CNN Wire Staff. “General: Iran Won’t Return U.S. Drone It Claims to Have.” CNN.com. CNN, 12 Dec. 2011. Web. 25 Oct. 2016.
(2) Military UAS News. “Iran’s IRGC Unveils New Combat Drone – UAS VISION.” Uasvision.com. UAS VISION, 02 Oct. 2016. Web. 26 Oct. 2016.
Image: © Steve Estvanik | Dreamstime.com - Defense Ministry
Carlos was born in Chicago, Illinois and came to USC to study psychology with a minor in Business Administration. He has worked in healthcare and finance for the past two summers. Carlos also helped co-found Trojan Marketing Group, a group that develops marketing strategies for large companies. Carlos has been with Global Intelligence Trust since summer of 2016. He am most interested in writing about innovation in the technology sector and aerospace developments. Apart from academics, Carlos enjoys playing volleyball, hiking, and traveling.