JOINT BASE ANACOSTIA-BOLLING — Iranian-made attack drones recovered in neighboring Iraq and far-flung Ukraine are symptomatic of a regime hungry for international influence, according to U.S. intelligence officials involved in the stateside review of the weapons.
Remnants of explosives-laden unmanned aerial vehicles, namely an angular Shahed-101 and more-oblong Shahed-131s, were shown to reporters Aug. 23 during a briefing at the Defense Intelligence Agency headquarters at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C. The DIA is a principal source of foreign intel for U.S. military endeavors.
The unclassified but closely held exhibits, tucked into a theater at the DIA museum, were assembled to be persuasive and hold Iran to account in front of friendly, neutral and potentially hostile nations, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for security reasons.
More than a dozen foreign governments have so far seen the materials; U.S. lawmakers and staff are expected to receive briefs in the coming weeks and months. The DIA declined to name those who already saw the evidence.
The charred-and-chipped drone arrangement coincides with a DIA report published in February that attributed Russian use of Shahed and Mohajer drones in Eastern Europe to Iranian suppliers. (Mohajer drones were not on display Wednesday.) U.S. experts matched components — wing stabilizers, serial numbers, exhausts, nose cones and more — and leaned on publicly available photos and videos in their analysis.
“Russia has used Iranian UAVs to strike Kyiv and terrorize the Ukrainian population, and the Russia-Iran military partnership appears to be deepening,” Lt. Col. Garron Garn, a Defense Department spokesperson, said in a statement.
A DIA official similarly said the agreements reflect an Iranian interest in both cash and cachet.
The Biden administration has expressed concern about Iran’s growing relationship with Russia, considered a serious national security threat alongside China. Tehran has sent more than 400 drones to Moscow amid reports the two are collaborating on a UAV factory hundreds of miles east of the Kremlin.
The Shahed and other loitering munitions are relatively unsophisticated and cheap, costing thousands of dollars, a DIA official said, and they use a breadth of commercially available parts. They don’t need a runway to launch, can fly for many miles and explode on impact.
Reporters were shown at least one defused warhead with a shaped charge, meant to punch through armor, and fragmenting cubes designed to harm personnel. Footage from the Russia-Ukraine war shows drones targeting vehicles and infantry alike, often with deadly effect. They can also overwhelm air defenses or make troops expend pricey ordnance and ammunition.
“The Russia-Iran defense partnership is harmful to Ukraine, to Iran’s neighbors, and to the international community,” Garn said. “The U.S. will continue to use all the tools at our disposal to expose and disrupt these activities.”
The U.S. has repeatedly sanctioned Iranian individuals and entities for their weapons work. The Treasury Department in February, for example, targeted eight senior executives of Paravar Pars, which produces UAVs for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covers military networks, cyber and IT. Colin previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.