Picture Iran’s Militia Operating Long-Range Drones
by DAVID AXE
The ground-combat branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps claimed it’s acquiring long-range drones.
Col. Akbar Karimloo, commander of the IRGC Ground Force’s drone division, in late April 2020 told state media that the IRGCGF soon would receive Fotros drones.
The Fotros is Iran’s answer to the American Predator and Reaper drones. Like the Predator and Reaper, the Fotros can carry weapons and loiter over a battlefield for as long as a day.
Karimloo said his division would get the drones from the Iranian defense ministry. Iran fields two separate armies. The regular armed forces technically are secular and train to defend Iran. The IRGC has a religious mandate and carries out missions on foreign soil on behalf of Iran’s “Islamic revolution.”
“Following extensive meetings with the defense ministry and evaluation of features of the homegrown drone, the IRGC Ground Force’s drone division has decided to utilize Fotros in operational zones,” Tasnim News Agency stated.
The IRGC already operates older, smaller Mohajer-6 drones. Fotros boasts greater payload and endurance. It reportedly can carry two small precision-guided missiles while flying as far as 1,200 miles.
It’s unclear how many Fotros drones the IRGCGF might acquire and how exactly the force might deploy them. But the drone-acquisition is consistent with a broader effort by the IRGC to field more high-tech weaponry.
The IRGC Navy in mid-April 2020 claimed it had acquired ship-launched anti-ship missiles with a range as far as 430 miles. As recently as September 2019, the militia said its best anti-ship missile could travel just 180 miles, Defense News noted.
The missile claim could have implications for tensions in the Gulf region.
The IRGCN’s boats in mid-April 2020 sailed dangerously close to a group of U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard vessels practicing helicopter operations.
Eleven Iranian fast attack craft “repeatedly conducted dangerous and harassing approaches of the USS Lewis B. Puller, USS Paul Hamilton, USS Firebolt, USS Sirocco, USCGC Wrangell and USCGC Maui while the U.S. vessels were conducting joint integration operations with U.S. Army AH-64E Apache attack helicopters in the international waters of the North Arabian Gulf,” the Navy stated.
Puller is a sea-base ship with a large flight deck. Hamilton is a guided-missile destroyer. Firebolt and Sirocco are patrol boats. Wrangell and Maui are Coast Guard cutters. Puller’s battle group had been practicing deploying Apaches for strikes on small craft just like the type that harassed the group.
“The IRGCN vessels repeatedly crossed the bows and sterns of the U.S. vessels at extremely close range and high speeds, including multiple crossings of the Puller with a 50 yard closest point of approach and within 10 yards of Maui‘s bow,” the U.S. Navy stated.
On April 22, 2020, U.S. President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter that he was authorizing the Navy to “shoot down and destroy” Iranian boats that harass American vessels.