What does Iran’s use of drones against ships mean for the future?

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Tensions are mounting between Israel and Iran after a ship was attacked off the coast of Oman on Friday, with details revealing that drones were used to spread death and destruction as two were killed in the attack.

The New York Times quoted two officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, saying: “The attack appeared to have been carried out by several unmanned Iranian drones that crashed into living quarters underneath the ship’s command center, or bridge.”

This appears to be a serious and complex attack that is not only a major escalation, but a new use of Iran drone technology.
Iran has been increasing its drone capabilities in recent years; it has a large number of militarized drones such as the Shahed, Mohajer and Ababil lines.

Tehran also recently showcased a new drone named after Gaza. It claims that its drones have long ranges, stretching over 1,600 km., and that some can carry missiles while others can be preprogrammed to carry out precision attacks by slamming into targets.

For instance, Iranian-style kamikaze drones have been developed by Hamas in Gaza, where they are called Shehab and by the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen, who use the Qasef drone.

The Houthis have terrorized Saudi Arabia with these UAVs. These drones carry a warhead in their body and are programmed to strike a target using a kind of gyroscope and guidance system. US and regional Gulf reports have linked drones across the region to Iranian construction and blueprints via details such as the gyroscopes.

IRAN HAS a plethora of drones, from its Shahed-129 that looks like an American Predator, to its new “Gaza” drone, a Shahed-149 that is also similar to a Predator, as well as the Shahed 121, a smaller reconnaissance drone.

There is also a Shahed 123 that is part of the same line of drones. Iran also makes UAVs with names such as Raad, Saegeh, Sarir, Fotros, Karrar and Kian. Some of the Iranian drones mentioned in sources may not exist, such as the Shahed-136, which was allegedly sent to Yemen to target Israel in January.

What matters is that Iran relies on drones to threaten enemies around the region, usually by transferring them to its proxies and allies such as Hamas, the Houthis, Hezbollah and Shi’ite militias in Iraq. Iranian operators may fly the drones from places like the T-4 Airbase in Syria, but the overall goal is that when they are used against Israel, the US in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kurdish forces and others, no one can easily link Iran to the attacks.

In some cases, parts and munitions that may be used in drones have been intercepted at sea by the US Navy as Iran has sought to move weapons to the Houthis.

The reported use of numerous drones against the Mercer Street ship off Oman’s coast could mark a new era in the Middle East, and a major redline in the use of drones against ships. Using several drones to precisely target parts of the ship, such as the bridge or living quarters, may indicate advanced surveillance and intelligence.

It is not clear if Iran’s drones can be piloted once they are launched by a ground control station. That means that an attack on a ship is complex because ships move so it’s unclear how Iran might program the drones to strike the ship precisely. Even at anchor a ship will shift around with the tide or wind. So how could the drone target specific areas, unless it was controlled up until the impact? These are key questions.

IF IRAN has reached a new level of precision drone strikes and is using them against shipping in deadly attacks, this is a major milestone. Iran may also be moving these drones to the Houthis or others, or basing them on ships. Iranian ships have recently sailed all the way to Russia, around Africa, and brought drones with them. It has also placed drones on its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps fast boats. Additionally, Iran has tested drones in recent naval exercises.

The Iran threat from drones based in Syria, or with Hezbollah, Hamas and pro-Iranian militias in Iraq, was known. The Houthi drone threat was also well known, and in addition, Iran’s use of drones to attack Saudi Arabia’s Aramco oil-processing facilities in Abqaiq in September 2019 was a major incident that some experts described as a sort of Pearl Harbor in using this technology.

Air defenses have been improving against drones, but the Houthis continue to use them against Riyadh, and pro-Iran militias in Iraq have showcased dozens of Iranian drones that are now in their arsenal. It is believed they used a drone to strike a secret CIA hangar in Erbil in the Iraqi Kurdistan Autonomous Region in April of this year. In 2019 it is also believed that the Kataib Hezbollah proxy, active in Iraq, used an Iranian-supplied drone to strike at Saudi Arabia.

Iran also used drones to monitor attacks on ISIS and in Syria in 2017 to help fight ISIS. It also used drones flown from Kirkuk in 2018 to target Kurdish dissidents; in July 2019 it again used a new drone unit to target Kurds.

All of this shows how Iranian drones and drone technology are now a major emerging threat: from Lebanon all the way through Syria and Iraq to the Persian Gulf and then to the Gulf of Oman and Yemen, stretching thousands of miles and potentially putting ships and forces from the US and many allies and partners in danger.

Iran may be signaling that it will strike using drones at sea in deadly attacks in what it claims are responses to Israeli strikes in Syria or elsewhere. A pro-Iran social media account says that Tehran’s armed drone ability is increasing and that this incident showcases the new Iran policy of retaliation.

Source » jpost

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