Defense Minister Gen. Ahmad Vahidi warned Sunday, Oct. 28, in Tehran: “The drone was definitely not the latest Iranian technology.”DEBKAfile: He was talking about the drone which Iran and Hizballah sent over Israeli airspace on Oct. 6 and stressing that it was not the last word in their UAV armory – or even the last to invade Israel’s skies.
According to our military sources, in mid-September, Tehran secretly shipped to Lebanon a batch of dismantled Ababil-T UAVs although the Iranians could not be sure that Israel would not discover their location and its air force bomb them before they were launched. The Syrian war is also making it hard to maintain permanent Iranian launching teams in Lebanon.
However, Iran is making great strides in producing drones with more capabilities and longer ranges. During the 2006 Lebanon War, Hizballah launched an earlier model of the Ababil to bomb Tel Aviv. It was shot down by the Israeli Air Force. Since then, the Iranians have produced the more advanced Ababil-T for short and medium range attack and Ababils-B and –S.
Our military sources identify Ababil-T as Iran’s most advanced drone in operational service. It has electronic warfare, military intelligence-gathering and online transmission capabilities suited to conditions of front-line battle. It is designed to disable enemy electronic systems in combat, especially those of the United States and Israel.
Ababil means “swallow,” after the story in the Koran of an enemy sending a herd of elephants to attack the Qaaba in Mecca and the swallows released by Allah for defeating them.
Its prototype had a maximum flying range of 150 kilometers, an altitude 4.2 kilometers and it could stay aloft for 10 hours at a stretch. Iranian engineers have rapidly improved its velocity and range. But until recently, they were not known to have figured out how to produce a drone able to cover the distance to Israel in direct flight without a staging-post in Lebanon. They dared not let their prize Ababil-T cut through Iraq or Turkey because it risked interception by the American or NATO forces stationed in those countries.
This obstacle appears to have been overcome by the last upgraded Ababil, according to Gen. Vahidi.
Indeed, a week before he spoke, on Oct. 17, Manouchehr Manteqi, head of Iran’s aerospace industry, announced that Tehran now had drones capable of flying a distance of 2,000 kilometers – and therefore reaching Israel.
Iran plans to store a supply of those advanced models to Lebanon for the use of Hizballah – and not only against Israel but to extend its range against a whole array of Tehran’s enemies – before flying them back to home base in Iran.
Iranian sources claim that the latest drone was tested in combat conditions In November 2011. A UAV was sent secretly over US Fifth Fleet vessels in the Persian Gulf, collected data and gained valuable experience for its further development.
They have now advanced to the planning stages of a spy drone with stealth qualities and a large UAV bomber, cannibalizing technology pirated from the American RQ-170 Sentinel drone they downed on Dec. 4, 2011, buying it from Russia and China and stealing it from the West.
Most of their UAV development program budget is being spent on upgrading their drones’ navigation, transmission and cyber warfare systems.
The great progress Iran has made in the past five years in all these fields has been helped along by Iranian students returning home from studies at MIT and other universities in the United States, Britain and Germany. They are offered attractive salaries to work hard on the goals set before them.