Unlike classic reconnaissance and attack drones, the “expendable” or suicide drones are equipped with an integrated war charge and can be used to attack fixed targets (refineries, airports and so on), but also to hit anti-aircraft batteries. Their guidance systems tend to be simple and rely on a GPS receiver that allows drones to follow a route with pre-loaded waypoints. These are devices that, both in the Yemeni conflict, as in those of Nagorno-Karabakh, Siraq and Ukraine, have shown all their cost-effectiveness given by the very low acquisition and operating costs, compared to their ability to escape traditional anti-aircraft defenses by virtue of their small size, their ability to follow routes and flight profiles at very low altitudes and the use, during the assembly phase, of poorly reflective radar composite materials. The first Iranian suicide drone was an ABABIL, used during the last stages of the war against Iraq as a kamikaze UAV and equipped with a 30 kg explosive warhead. Its successor, named ABABIL-2, features a cylindrical fuselage airframe, rear wing and front canard planes. Powered by a 25hp WAE-342 2-cylinder piston engine with 2-blade thrust propeller, it is constructed of metal materials and weighs approximately 80kg. It can be launched from a platform using a rocket, which can be mounted on a vehicle or ship if necessary, or from a pneumatic catapult mounted on a truck or pick-up. For recovery, it is equipped with a parachute but it is possible to mount skids for conventional landings. Moreover, some cells have also been equipped with classic landing gear. It was presented in 1998 in 3 different variants: the ABABIL-2B target drone; the ABABIL-2S surveillance UAV, which shared the same cell as the previous one, supplemented by a non-infrared electro-optical payload; finally the ABABIL-2T, equipped with a redesigned airframe, characterized by a double tail and made of fiberglass materials, unlike the other models. Accredited with greater autonomy – about 2 hours, compared to 70/80 minutes – and speed, it can operate in the double role of ISR platform or drone that can be spent with an explosive charge of 40 kg, with a maximum ceiling of 3,500 m. From the latter, at least 2 further variants have been developed: MERSAD and QASEF. The Iranian ABABIL-2s are still in service with the Army. The ABABIL-3, on the other hand, represents one of the most recent UAVs developed by the Iranian industry. Officially entered into service with the Iranian Forces in 2020, but paradoxically already active in 2012 in the Sudanese conflict, it is one of the latest evolutions of the ABABIL family of systems, from which, however, it differs in a totally revised design. Its fiberglass cell, in fact, is based on the design of the South African SEEKER-2D UAV and characterized by a cylindrical body, a high wing structure located in the center of the fuselage, with a rectangular shape in the first section and slightly tapered towards the ends, and double “H” tail. Considerably larger than the ABABIL-2 – 6.9 m wingspan, compared to the approximately 3 m of its predecessors – it is powered by a German Limbach L550E engine or, more likely, a Sino-Iranian copy of it. From the few data that can be analyzed on its performance, we are talking about an aircraft capable of remaining in flight for about 4 hours and with a range of 100 km, and reaching a maximum altitude of 5,000 m. The payload consists of a classic EO / IR turret and variable war load. In fact, it can be armed with a pair of air-sup missiles or guided bombs – basically of the QAEM-1/5 type – carried on the 2 sub-wing pylons, an element that differentiates it from the 2 predecessors which, born as expendable aircraft / drones, do not provide for fall armament. In recent months, however, the aircraft has been certified to carry a new anti-tank missile with an accredited range of 10 km, probably belonging to the QAEM family. Some sources link this new missile – whose name should be QAEM-9/114 – to the completion of a reverse engineering work (yet another by Iran) starting from the study of the Israeli anti-tank SPIKE-LR, one of the which would have fallen into Iranian hands – via Hezbollah – in 2006. The new missile should have 2 variants depending on the type of guidance used, TV seeker or infrared. Over 200 ABABIL-3 are in service with regular Army and Navy and with the Aerospace Forces of the Pasdaran (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, IRGC) many of which are housed in the bases near the Strait of Hormuz (Bandar Abbas and Minab). Also in this case there would be an updated variant – called ATLAS – which should keep the original airframe, reinforced in the wings and fuselage, and integrated with a new hydraulic system related to the landing gear and with an automated device for take-off and landing. The latest known version of the family is the ABABIL-5, which in reality practically nothing is known about. During the recent presentation of the underground base 313, which took place last May, it would have been noticed the presence of one of the 3 existing prototypes of the ABABIL-5, equipped with the aforementioned QAEM-9/114 missile.
As for the KARRAR, born as a target aircraft and developed through reverse engineering of the American MQM-107 STREAKER, acquired in the 70s at the time of the Shah, and the South African SKUA, it has been progressively improved since its first appearance in 2002. Characterized by a low-wing semi-delta airframe, cylindrical fuselage with dorsal air intake for the Microturbo-TRI-60 turbojet engine, or one of its Iranian TOLOUE-5 copies, and a tailplane with double vertical stabilizers, is equipped with an inertial / GPS guidance system without the aid of optical sensors, which implies the need to follow pre-programmed routes, even if they can be updated during the flight. The procedure of use is the classic one from aero target, with take-off that takes place with the aid of a rocket and recovery with the deployment of a parachute. According to Iranian official sources, to date it is used both as an anti-aircraft expendable drone, without an explosive charge but equipped with a heat-seeking IR seeker installed in the nose for kinetic abatements, and as an attack UAV. In the latter version, it would be armed with a load of 225 kg – consisting of unguided bombs (2 type Mk-81 or one Mk-82), or a pair of KOWSAR anti-ship missiles, or a single NASR-1 missile. – configuration that would reduce the declared range of 1,000 km by about 50%. Before adopting the aforementioned kinetic solution, it had previously been tested, with poor results, as an interceptor, armed with short-range air-to-air missiles and IR-guided AZARAKHSH, Iranian clones of the SIDEWINDER. Among the alleged capabilities heralded by the Regime, there would be that of surveillance, although sensors for the execution of these tasks are absent. More recently, during the presentation of the new underground base 313, a new model called KARRAR-3 was identified, armed with SHAFAQ missiles and new BALABAN guided bombs, similar in design and size to the US GBU-39 SDBs. As for weight and performance, we are talking about 650 kg at full load and a maximum speed of over 800 km / h.
Other more recent examples of UAV platforms are represented by the KIAN / ARASH family of aircraft. Presented to the public in 2019, these are devices equipped with jet propulsion provided by a Bukhari WAE-342/742 engine and available in the dual configuration high-speed target drones (KIAN), or circulating ammunition (ARASH) less fast but with greater in-flight capability, both in service. During the official presentation, Gen. Sabahifard, Commander of the Iranian Air Defense Forces, stated that the KIANs are also able to carry out reconnaissance and surveillance missions over distances of about 1,000 km, although none of the 2 aircraft present at the event was equipped with an electro-optical / infrared payload necessary to perform similar tasks. Three years after these declarations, there are still no elements confirming this ability which, therefore, must probably be fully inserted in the classic Iranian propaganda.
Finally, other recent kamikaze drones are the SHAHED-131/136. The SHAHED-136, widely used in Ukraine, was showcased during a 2019 exercise, in which it appeared with a cell clearly resembling the Israeli HARPY and configured as a specially modified dump truck mounted system for transporting 5 appliances. . SHAHED-131 is supposed to represent a simple abridged version of 136. In recent years, both have been used in operations against Saudi Arabia, merchant ships and US bases in Iraq. The Houthis have a variant of the SHAHED-136 with greater range called WAID.
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