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During 2018, Iran has increased combat drone operations both domestically and internationally. The Iranian indigenous drone program seems like a serious threat to both its rivals and to the international drone marketplace. Its historical development and the recent application of Iranian drones at the battlefield make the Iranian drone a dangerous challenge.
The program which started during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s has been so successful that as recently as 2017, Russian drone development is said to be receiving Iranian support.
In June 2018, the crash landing of an Iranian Mohajer-6 combat drone armed with two Iranian made and developed smart bombs demonstrated the use of the drone by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Council (IRGC) against Al Qaeda affiliate Jaish ul-Adl within the borders of Iran.
In October, Iranian strike drones bombed rebel targets in Syria alongside Iranian ballistic missile strikes as retaliation for an attack on the Iranian Military parade in Ahvaz.
Perhaps the most daring of Iran’s drone operations, according to uasvision.com, was an alleged April Iranian attack attempt on Israel with an explosive laden drone, sent from the T4 airbase in Syria, which was shot down and caused a massive retaliatory strike by Israel.
Iran’s next step may well be to venture into selling these combat-proven drones to other nations. Hezbollah has already employed its first Iranian drone, a modified Mohajer-1, in 2004 for reconnaissance of Israel, while Venezuela received both drones and drone technology from Iran around 2012, including the Mohajer-2 which is also used by Syria.
While China continues to export its CH-4 and other more advanced combat drones around the world, isolated nations that may want an alternative to procuring Chinese drones may turn to Iran for drones and perhaps even for an off the shelf drone development program for their own country, crafted by Iranian engineers with decades of tested and battle-hardened experience.
The greatest Iranian drone client could realistically be terrorist or rebel organizations, those China would or could not supply for political reasons. The Houthi in Yemen are the newest force through which Iran can learn of their drones’ effectiveness against modern armies, like those in the Saudi led coalition. Such experiences will give Iranian drones a marketable history to prospective clients.