Iran Might Be Waiting Until October To Supply Russia Deadlier Drones And Missiles For Ukraine

08 Jan 2023

Iran Might Be Waiting Until October To Supply Russia Deadlier Drones And Missiles For Ukraine

By Paul Iddon

January 8, 2023

https://www.forbes.com/sites/pauliddon/2023/01/08/iran-might-be-waiting-until-october-to-supply-russia-deadlier-drones-and-missiles-for-ukraine/

Since September, Russia has launched hundreds of Iranian-supplied loitering munitions (self-detonating drones) against Ukraine's power grid. Tehran has much faster and deadlier drones and short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) that it might also supply Moscow after October when a key condition in a 2015 U.N. Security Council resolution restricting Iranian missile exports is set to expire.

In December, Axios reported that Iran plans to limit the range and payload of any SRBMs it supplies Russia. Tehran wants to avoid violating U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, which bans it from exporting drones or SRBMs with ranges exceeding 300 kilometers (186 miles) and payloads greater than 500 kilograms until October 2023. If Iran is caught violating that resolution, it could trigger the "snapback" of U.N. sanctions.

The resolution was introduced in 2015 as part of the Iranian nuclear deal. Under that resolution, the ban on Iran importing and exporting conventional arms expired in October 2020. Tehran has since exported hundreds of loitering munitions, mostly the Shahed-136 model, to Russia and is expected to receive Su-35 fighter jets in return sometime this year.

However, it's unclear if Iran has yet delivered any SRBMs or longer-range drones, such as the Arash-2. Tehran reportedly plans to modify the Fateh-110 SRBM, which can hit targets up to 300 km away, to ensure it doesn't violate 2231. It has also ruled out sending the Zolfagher SRBM, which has a range of 700 km range (434 miles). Significant quantities of these weapons could potentially enable Russia to continue or even expand its systematic destruction of Ukraine's electricity grid and infrastructure.

Is Tehran merely biding its time and waiting until the 2231 stipulation expires before it supplies Moscow with these more advanced and lethal loitering munitions and SRBMs?

"I, like many Europeans, believe Iran is already in the breach of 2231's Annex-B, paragraph 4, because the drones, or rather cruise missiles, they have provided to Russia have a range in excess of 300 km," Farzin Nadimi, a defense and security analyst and Associate Fellow of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told me.

"But, feeling the international pressure, Tehran might have adopted a different approach regarding ballistic missiles," he said. "And 'if' Iran has already delivered SRBMs of various types to Russia, it is possible that they have asked Moscow to refrain from using those with a range beyond 300 km for now and limit their usage to Fateh-110, which has a maximum range not more than 300 km."

"So far, we have not seen any use of Iranian-made SRBMs by Russia," he added. "Therefore, this is all conjecture based on the original U.S. intelligence reports."

Nevertheless, Nadimi also anticipates that more capable explosive drones, such as the Arash-2, will appear over Ukrainian territory "sooner rather than later."

"Regarding snapback, I believe the West can already initiate a snapback process based on my earlier argument. However, there seems to be little political will to do it," he said.

'A real stir'

Anton Mardasov, an independent Russian analyst and non-resident scholar of the Middle East Institute's Syria program, noted that Russia's infamous use of the Shahed-136s (known as Geran 2s in Russian service) against Ukraine likely means that "the delivery of missiles, even after October 2023, will cause a real stir."

Concealing their usage will also undoubtedly prove difficult for Russia. Ukrainian intelligence or other observers would certainly publicize the discovery of any remains recovered from the battlefield that point to their Iranian origin, as they have done on several occasions with the Iranian drones Russia has already used.

 

"Most likely, Iranian missiles cannot be used from Russian carriers, and Iranian chassis-based systems will be even more difficult to hide from satellites," Mardasov told me. "In addition, this would also be an expensive contract that would make Russia even more dependent on Iran."

 

"I think that the maximum option is if Iranian defense companies supply some components for more rapid production of Russian missiles with Iranian components in Russia," he said. "This may already be happening."

"Continued drone deliveries are also possible because Russian enterprises have apparently begun to manufacture something from Iranian, so to speak, machine parts on their territory," he added.

Of Russian and Iranian missiles

For months, there has been widespread speculation that Russia is acquiring large quantities of surface-to-surface weaponry from Iran since it has depleted most of its missile stockpiles. Nevertheless, just before New Year's Eve, Russia launched one of its largest missile barrages since the war began last February.

Mardasov is highly skeptical of claims that Russian stockpiles of advanced missiles and precision-guided munitions are becoming depleted.

"All public calculations of the remaining high-precision weapons are meaningless or erroneous since such stockpiles are a military secret," he said. "For at least an approximate calculation, it is necessary to know a lot of data: the number of electronics available, the amount of previous peacetime production of ground, air, and naval missiles, and the amount of current missile production when personnel at the plants work in several shifts, etc."

He also pointed out that Russian military counter-intelligence is "always trying to confuse a potential enemy, throwing some data into the public domain in the interests of the Kremlin."

"So, this data is top secret information of strategic importance because the carriers of high-precision weapons must be deployed in other directions, even where the threat of conflict is highly unlikely," he said. "It is clear that Russia will not deploy Iranian missiles in these directions. It is also clear that Russia has some reserve of missiles for contingencies in other directions."

"Again, even Russian analysts who dared to publicly voice the number of cruise or quasi-ballistic missiles in service, measuring the production volume at 100-150 missiles per year, are wrong," he added. "Their calculations are understated and do not even match the official information, which (Russian Minister of Defense) Sergei Shoigu disclosed at the height of the war in Syria."

"Russian military-industrial complex enterprises, which previously suffered from underfunding, now receive large orders, and their capacities allow them to produce dozens or hundreds of missiles."