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Iran has been upgrading its drone program. Although Iranian drones have usually taken an observational role, rather than a direct-action stance, Iranian drone capabilities have slowly been shifting towards an offensive ground attack role and getting new technological features.

The backbone of Iran’s UAV program is the Shahed 129, a large-sized armed drone, visually similar to the American General Atomics MQ-1 Predator, though the Predator is a vastly more capable platform.

While the earlier (presumable first-generation) Shahed 129s had a thinner, more pencil-shaped fuselage, the newer models have a distinctly Predator-like nose bulge, presumably to accommodate a synthetic-aperture radar antenna, a higher-resolution radar system, or perhaps a link for satellite-based navigation.

In 2016, a Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Air Force commander implied that Iran was in the process of upgrading their drone fleet in order to end its reliance on ground-based controllers towards a satellite-based system. This may be the reason for the nose bulges seen in the newer model Shahad 129s.

If claims about GPS-navigable Shahed 129s are credible, then Iran presumably has the ability to use GPS navigation in tandem with other weapons systems, namely ballistic weapons.

The early-model Shahed 129s (and possibly the newer models as well) were limited not so much by fuel capacity as by their data-link capacity.

If true, the dependence on a ground-based controller would likely limit the Shahed 129’s range to 200-400 kilometers (125-250 miles).

Iran’s drones have been wreaking havoc in the Middle East. Back in February of 2016, an Iranian drone, presumably a Shahed 129, was seen with what appeared to be a missile similar to what has been seen in Iranian state media, according to nationalinterest.org.

Several Shahed 129s made an appearance in Syria’s civil war again in 2017, two of which were shot down by American F-15Es. One of the drones was apparently able to drop ordinance on or near Syrian fighters before it was shot down.