Iranian officials announced on Monday that the military had launched a drone tournament alongside Russia, Belarus, and Armenia—three members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) with historic security ties and cordial relationships with Tehran.
Iranian state television broadcasted the opening ceremony for the “Falcon Hunting” competition, the seventh iteration of the contest since its launch in Russia in 2015. The current iteration of the games is being hosted by the aerospace division of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the elite branch of the Iranian military responsible for safeguarding the country’s clerical system of government. Iran’s unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) program is headquartered near Kashan, the city where the tournament is being held, due in part to the area’s relatively flat terrain.
During the opening ceremony, Ali Balali, an adviser to IRGC aerospace director Amir Ali Hajizadeh, indicated that the competing drones from all four nations would be judged on both “performance” and “consistency” during day and night. The primary purpose of the exercises is to determine which drone is best at directing ground artillery fire, although ground personnel from the four countries will also undergo other skill tests, such as physical endurance and target shooting. Iranian officials have reportedly added new events to the exercises, including diving, for the first time. The exercises are scheduled to run for roughly two weeks and end on August 28, according to Iran’s state-affiliated Tasnim news agency.
Balali claimed during his remarks that the purpose of the games was to communicate a “message of peace and friendship” and to emphasize “Iran’s joint cooperation with other countries to counter global terrorism” and bring about an “exchange of experiences and military achievements.”
The games come during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, now approaching its seventh month, and follow reports that the Kremlin has sought closer cooperation with Iran in the field of drone technology. U.S. officials have claimed in recent months that Russia seeks to purchase hundreds of Iranian drones for use in Ukraine, although the Iranian government has denied this claim, which has also come under scrutiny from some experts in the West.
Although Iranian officials and state-affiliated media have argued that the United States caused Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by seeking to expand NATO eastward, Tehran has officially remained neutral in the conflict. Iranian officials have vowed that they would not do anything to aid Russia against Ukraine or vice-versa. At the same time, however, Russia and Iran have developed closer relations during the conflict, with Putin traveling to Tehran in July for a three-way summit with Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.