Warplanes: Iran Offers Mystery Clones For Sale

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October 15, 2016: In late September Iran confirmed that it had been using its new (since 2012) Shahed 129 UAVs in Syria. This is one of the largest (over half a ton) UAVs Iran has developed and built and since 2014 has been spotted in Syria and Iraq (near Iranian border) doing surveillance. In early 2016 video broadcast on Iranian TV showed the Shahed 129 using laser guided air-to ground missiles. These attacks have not apparently been very successful otherwise Iran would have publicized them.

The Iranians have been developing UAVs since the 1980s. Since 2009 the largest one the U.S. sure of was the Shahed 129, which is similar in size to the Israeli Hermes 450 (a 450 kg/992 pound aircraft with a 6.1 meter/20 foot wingspan). An early model (perhaps a prototype) Shahed 129 was thought to be what an American F-16 pilot reported seeing and shooting down over Iraq, near the Iranian border, in 2009. Iran did not report the Shahed 129 ready for service until 2012 and it has only been seen in or near Iran (as in over Iraq) until 2015 but then one has been spotted in Syria. About the same time cell phone photos of what was apparently a Shahed 129 that crash landed near the Pakistani border seemed to confirm speculation about its size and weight. Iran never released performance data for the Shahed 129 but recently a senior Iranian military official said the Shahed 129 would be offered for export. At that point they would have to release data on the UAV.

Shahed 129 shown on TV during February 2016 was apparently an upgrade, possibly a satellite data-link. Without such a data link the Shahed 129 can only operate about 200 kilometers from its operator (and the base station). The existing UAV Shahed 129 most closely, the Hermes 450, has been around since 1998 and upgraded several times since then. It is the primary UAV for the Israeli armed forces, and twenty or more were in action each day during the 2006 war in Lebanon. The Hermes 450 has a payload of 150 kg. It can also carry one or two Hellfire missiles and can stay in the air for up to 20 hours per sortie, and fly as high as 6,500 meters (20,000 feet).

China may be the source of the more modern Iranian UAV technology. China has developed and exported similar UAVs and Chinese made weapons for therm. There are what appears to be Chinese clones of the 1.1 ton American Predator (CH-4) and Israeli Hermes 450 (CH-3). The Chinese offer a Hellfire missile clone called AR-1 that can be used on their CH-3 and CH-4 UAVs. AR-1 is a 45 kg (99 pound) missile with a max range of 10 kilometers and a 10 kg (22 pound) warhead. AR-1 can be equipped with either GPS or laser guidance. Another UAV weapon China offers is a copy of the American SDB (small diameter bomb). The American original is a 128 kg (281 pound) GPS guided glide bomb in the shape of a missile with a penetrating warhead. The Chinese version is the FT-5 and is a 100 kg (220 pound) GPS guided bomb in the shape of a missile. In mid-2016 China revealed that it had a modern satellite based control system for UAVs.

 


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