March 19, 2009: The U.S. Air Force recently revealed that one of its fighters had shot down an Iranian Ababil UAV over Iraq. This is nothing new, really. The Iranians have been developing UAVs for over a decade. Their Ababil is a 183 pound UAV with a ten foot wing span, a payload of about 80 pounds, a cruising speed of 290 kilometers an hour and an endurance of 90 minutes. The Ababil is known to operate as far as 150 kilometers from its ground controller. But it also has a guidance system that allows it to fly a pre-programmed route and then return to the control by its ground controllers for a landing (which is by parachute). The Ababil can carry a variety of day and night still and video cameras. There are many inexpensive and very capable cameras available on the open market, as is the equipment needed to transmit video and pictures back to the ground.
The Ababil was first seen in Lebanon, where Iranian backed Hezbollah had received about a dozen of them. The Israelis feared that the low flying Ababils could come south carrying a load of nerve gas, or even just explosives. Using GPS guidance, such a UAV could hit targets very accurately. Moreover, there's nothing exotic about UAV technology, at least for something like the Ababil. It was no surprise that Iran began using homemade UAVs in the late 1990s. After all, they had received some UAVs from the United States in the 1970s (Firebee target drones.)
The Israelis immediately tagged Iran as the supplier of the Hezbollah drone, because Iran has long supplied that terrorist organization with cash, weapons and equipment for decades. Israeli fighters have shot down Ababils over Lebanon and northern Israel. Israel obtained many components of shot down Ababils, which made it possible to make a positive identification.
The Abibl shot down in Iraq was believed to be scouting smuggling routes for getting Iranian weapons into Iraq, to arm pro-Iranian militias and terrorist groups.