A Ukrainian investigation found that Iranian-built drones Russian forces are using in Ukraine consist of components made in the US and Europe.
The majority of parts found in downed Iranian drones in Ukraine are manufactured in the US, Europe and other Western allies, a Ukrainian intelligence report has revealed, exposing the limits of export controls on Iran.
Three-quarters of the component parts of Iranian drones purchased by Russia for its war in Ukraine were made in the US, according to documents obtained by the Wall Street Journal from the Kiev-based Independent Anti-Corruption Commission, a non-profit known by its Ukrainian acronym NAKO.
Iranian drones entering a conventional battlefield in Europe have occurred despite the US imposing punitive sanctions against Iran’s economy and placing export controls on commercial parts that could be used in the manufacturing of weapons systems.
In one instance, researchers studied an Iranian Mohajer-6 drone that was brought down by Ukrainian forces after being hacked mid-flight. Nearly half of the drone’s parts were found to be made by US firms, while a third of them came from Japan.
One of the devices allowing pilots to remotely control the drone was made by Japan’s Tonegawa-Seiko Co while electronic components were found to have been manufactured by the German-owned Infineon Technologies AG and the US-based Microchip Technology Inc.
“Without access to the device itself, we are unable to advise whether it is a microchip product or counterfeit product, and if it is a microchip product, how it ended up in this particular application,” Brian Thorsen, a spokesman for Microchip Technology, was quoted by the WSJ as saying.
Meanwhile, the hi-res telescopic infrared lens used in the Mohajer-6 for surveillance and targeting appeared identical to a model by Israeli firm Ophir Optronics Solutions Ltd.
Tehran has admitted to selling drones to Moscow but denies it has done so since the war in Ukraine commenced in February. Both Iran and Russia have denied the use of Shahed-136 drones in Ukraine.
Much of the technology found in the drones shot down in Ukraine can easily be purchased online and shipped to Iran through intermediary countries, making them hard to intercept.
Weapons experts told the WSJ that Iran has been able to reverse engineer and pull pieces from downed and captured drones from countries like the US and Israel.
Iranian-made drones used by Russian forces include the Shahed-136, Shahed-129, Shahed-191, and Qods Mohajer-6.
The Shahed-136 has recently emerged as a weapon of choice for Russian troops, who have reportedly used the drone to attack Ukrainian cities.
While it can fly like an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), the Shahed-136 is technically a long-range loitering munition – which can linger around an area before a target is engaged. The system is packed with explosives and can be directed at a specific target before flying into it and detonating upon impact, leading it to be dubbed a “suicide” or “kamikaze” drone.
In recent weeks, Iranian drones have allegedly been used by Russia to target critical energy infrastructure in Ukraine.
In October, the WSJ cited a report documenting how Iran was able to supply drones to its Houthi allies in Yemen and evade sanctions using commercial companies to acquire parts.
Washington has also accused Tehran of sourcing parts for its drone programme from Beijing.
To assist Ukraine counter the explosive drones, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced last month that the military alliance would send “hundreds” of signal-jammers to Kiev.