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Iran preparing to send armed drones to Russia, White House says

The Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) unveils its new "Gaza" wide-body combat drone, May 21, 2021. (Sepah News/Released)
July 12, 2022

The Iranian government is preparing to send “several hundred” unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to Russia, including drones capable of carrying out armed strikes, according to White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.

During a press briefing on Monday afternoon, Sullivan discussed how Ukrainian forces have inflicted heavy costs on Russia’s warfighting capabilities and is struggling to replenish its forces on its own. These heavy losses in Ukraine have reportedly forced Russia to turn to its allies for new weapons and equipment.

“When I talked about the severe costs that Russia has had to endure on the battlefield as it tries to grind out territory in the east, this is coming at a cost to the sustainment of its own weapons,” Sullivan said. “And I’ll just give you one example before I leave, which is an example that I think is pretty newsworthy and noteworthy, and that is that our information indicates that the Iranian government is preparing to provide Russia with up to several hundred UAVs, including weapons-capable UAVs, on an expedited timeline.”

Sullivan said further U.S. intelligence indicates Iran will help train Russian forces to use their UAVs and said such training could begin in early July.

“It’s unclear whether Iran has delivered any of these UAVs to Russia already,” Sullivan continued. “But this is just one example of how Russia is looking to countries like Iran for capabilities that are also being used, I might add, or have been used before we got the ceasefire in place in Yemen, to attack Saudi Arabia.”

Sullivan appeared to reference drone strikes on Saudi Arabia and allies in a Saudi-led coalition that has been fighting in the Yemeni Civil War against Iran-linked Houthi rebels. Iran has been suspected of supplying weapons to the Houthi rebels throughout the ongoing Yemen conflict.

While it is difficult to confirm precise figures for equipment losses in the fighting between Russia and Ukraine, Russian forces appear to have lost dozens of drones four and a half months into its invasion. An organization called Oryx, which attempts to provide photographic documentation of equipment losses in Ukraine, has documented 49 different destroyed Russian drones and another 46 Russian drones that have been captured by the Ukrainian side. The majority of the drones Russia has lost were designed for reconnaissance purposes, though at least one known unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) and two other drones of an unknown type have been destroyed.

The reported Iranian effort to supply Russia with new drones could both replenish its stocks of lost reconnaissance drones and bolster Russia’s attack drone capabilities.

News that Iran may be supplying weapons-capable drones and other military equipment to Russia comes as the Biden administration is still negotiating for a return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).