According to the U.S. and allied security officials, Iran is working secretly to send attack drones and the first Iranian surface-to-surface missiles to aid Russia in its assault on Ukrainian cities and troop positions. The move is part of its commitment to supply Russia with arms for the assault on Ukraine.
The increased flow of weapons from Tehran could help offset what Biden administration officials say are massive losses in Russian military equipment since the invasion of Ukraine in February. There is also a rapidly diminishing supply of precision-guided munitions of the type used in the attacks on multiple Ukrainian cities last week.
In recent days, independent news outlets have published photographs of what appear to be the remains of Iranian-made drones used in strikes against Ukrainian targets. The reports cast doubt on repeated denials by Iran that it has supplied such weapons to its ally Russia. Officials from the Pentagon have also confirmed the use of Iranian drones in Russian airstrikes and the defensive success of Ukraine in shooting down some of the drones.
Tehran dispatched officials to Russia on September 18 to finalize terms for the shipment of additional weapons, including two types of Iranian surface-to-surface missiles, according to officials from a U.S.-allied country that closely monitors the weapons activity of Iran.
According to a recent intelligence assessment shared with Ukrainian and American officials, the armaments industry of Iran is preparing the first shipment of Fateh-110 and Zolfaghar missiles, two well-known Iranian short-range ballistic missiles. The latter can destroy targets 300 and 700 kilometers away, respectively, according to two officials briefed on the matter. If executed, this would be the first shipment of such missiles to Russia since the beginning of the conflict.
Due to the extreme sensitivity surrounding intelligence-gathering operations, the officials spoke under the condition that their names and nationalities remain confidential.
Officials have identified specific Iranian drones, the Shahed series, and the Mohajer-6s, that Tehran had begun supplying to Russia for use in Ukraine in August. In recent weeks, Ukrainian forces have recovered, analyzed, and photographed the remains of both types. The weapons appear to have been repainted and given Russian names.
Iran is preparing new deliveries of drones to Russia, including dozens of additional Mohajer-6s and additional Shahed-136s, according to officials briefed on the planned missile shipment. These latter drones, sometimes called ‘kamikaze’ drones, are designed to crash into their targets and deliver explosive payloads up to 1,500 miles away. According to reports, Iranian technical advisors have traveled to Russian-controlled territory to instruct on the operation of drones.
The U.S. intelligence community declined to comment on rumors of upcoming Iranian shipments to Russia. Saturday, neither Russian nor Iranian officials responded to requests for comment regarding reports of Iranian missiles en route to Russia.
According to a Saturday transcript of his conversation with his Portuguese counterpart, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian stated that “the Islamic Republic of Iran has not and will not provide any weapon for the war in Ukraine. We believe that providing arms to each side of the crisis will prolong the war.”
Iran’s arsenal of short- and medium-range missiles is one of the largest and most diverse in the Middle East. Iranian weapon developers have struggled with reliability issues in the past. But the most recent iterations of the Fateh-110 and Zolfaghar are regarded by experts as effective and respectably accurate at close ranges. Some models feature electrooptic guidance systems that let the operators of the missiles direct them as they get closer to the target.
Iran has previously supplied the same missiles to proxy militia groups in the Middle East, including Houthi fighters in Yemen. Houthi forces have displayed missiles designed by Iran in military parades and used them to attack oil refineries and other civilian targets in neighboring Gulf states.