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Drones loaded with explosives are on their way to Middle Eastern rebels. Iran has transferred so-called kamikaze aerial attack drones technology to Yemen’s Houthi rebels who have used them to disable Saudi-led coalition missile defences.

Instead of firing missiles or other munitions, the drone contains explosives inside its body and has been used to crash into radar components of the coalition’s US-made Patriot anti-missile batteries, UAE military officials told Conflict Armament Research (CAR), a UK-based arms transparency organisation primarily funded by the European Union. With the radars disabled, the rebels are able to fire volleys of missiles at coalition targets, the report said.

According to thenational.ae, after two years of civil war, including an ongoing bombing campaign by Saudi fighter jets, the Houthis and their allies – former military forces loyal to deposed president Ali Abdullah Saleh – are still able to launch ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia and have managed to target Yemeni and coalition forces with rockets and missiles.

The aerial attack drones are the latest sophisticated weapon that Iran appears to have sent to the Houthis whom they support, allowing the rebels to target the coalition and US naval vessels in the Bab Al Mandeb with anti-ship missiles and a drone attack boat. Using open-source data, the rebels programme GPS guidance systems in the drones, which do not carry any video or camera sensors.

The drones found appear to be identical to one of four aerial drones the Houthis said last month they had manufactured domestically, which they called the Qasef-1. The CAR report said they are in fact versions of the Ababil-T drone produced by Iran.

“The fact that the UAVs were disassembled while in transit suggests that the Houthis have personnel with technical expertise on UAVs,” researcher Jonah Leff said. “It is unlikely that the Houthis developed this technical know-how and newly employed tactics without foreign support. From a military equipment perspective, Iran seems to be playing a hand.”

The serial number prefix of the intercepted drones was identical to the prefix of Iran’s Ababil variants, the report said. The gyroscopes in the drones that researchers were given access to also had a serial number close to an Iranian Ababil drone used by Iranian-backed militia forces in Iraq.

The report said the Chinese-made engine of the crashed drone was identical to the drone engine used in the Marib attack. Both drones were marked with a handwritten “A”, indicating they came from the same batch, while the six new drones were marked with a “B”.