Iran and Russia have reached an agreement to start producing attack drones in Russia, according to a new intelligence assessment from a country that closely monitors Iran’s weapons program.
Iran is beginning to transfer blueprints and components for the drones to Russia after the initial agreement was struck earlier this month, a source familiar with the assessment said.
US officials have said Russia has received hundreds of drones from Tehran that have had a deadly effect in Ukraine.
Earlier this month, the Iranian government first acknowledged that it had sent a limited number of drones to Russia in the months leading up to the start of its invasion of Ukraine.
“Some western countries have accused Iran of supporting the war in Ukraine by providing drones…we provided a limited number of drones to Russia in the months leading up to the start of the war in Ukraine,” Iran’s foreign minister said Hossein Amirabdollahian told reporters Tehran.
The aim is for Russia to produce thousands of new attack drones using Iranian components and blueprints, the source explained. If the two countries go full steam ahead with their plan, it is expected that production could start in a few months and there is a possibility that the drones will be used by Russia on the battlefield in Ukraine next year, the source said.
It would be a move that would further solidify the partnership between Tehran and Moscow and is likely to draw significant anger from Ukraine and its Western allies, including the US.
The Washington Post first reported on the agreement.
More background: The effort comes after CNN and other media outlets reported that Iran is preparing to send weapons, including short-range surface-to-surface ballistic missiles and other attack drones, to Russia before the end of the year.
The source familiar with the assessment said the reports had raised concern in Iran, which appears to have prompted the regime to reconsider its approach with a plan for Russia to manufacture the drones rather than transfer them directly from Iran.
The production process for the attack drones is not complicated compared to the production of other weapons, the source explained.
CNN has reached out to the Russian Embassy in Washington and the Iran Mission to the United Nations for comment.
Asked for comment on the assessment, White House National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said: “Iran and Russia can lie to the world, but they cannot hide the facts: Tehran is helping to protect Ukrainian civilians by providing… Weapons and aid kill Russia in its operations. It is another sign of how isolated both Iran and Russia are.”
Why this agreement is important: Drones have played a significant role in the conflict since Russia launched its all-out invasion of Ukraine in late February, but their use has increased since the summer, when the United States and Kyiv say Moscow has acquired drones from Iran. In recent weeks, these Iranian drones have been used to attack critical energy infrastructure in Ukraine.
The Iranian drones are known as “loitering munitions” because they are able to circle in an area identified as a potential target for some time and only strike once an enemy object has been identified.
They are small, portable and easy to launch, but their main advantage is that they are difficult to detect and can be fired from afar.