Pentagon officials and journalists have been speaking publicly about their concerns regarding advances in Iranian missile technology. No one should underestimate Iran’s indigenous armament industry or the capabilities of Iranian engineers and scientists. Given enough time and, when needed, assistance from North Korean, Pakistani, and Turkish scientists, they are capable of reverse-engineering any military system.
It is against this backdrop that the increasing production of Iranian Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) should pose a concern. The issue is not simply Iranian bluster about their capabilities to replicate the technology in the state-of-the-art U.S. drone seized by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps after landing inside Iran. (Why President Obama did not order it to be destroyed on the ground in Iran is a question that will haunt families of future Iranian terror victims).
Rather, the Iranian military has been making great strides in constructing and putting into operation smaller UAVs. The Iranian military, for example, now operates the Sobakbal, which can fly at attitudes of 20,000 feet, has a range of 13 miles, and can be used for surveillance; and the Ababil, which flies only at a ceiling of 4,200 feet, but has a range exceeding 200 miles. The longer the United States waits to tackle the Iranian problem, the stronger Iran will become and the more crowded the skies over the Persian Gulf will become. Iranian air traffic control de-conflicts manned flights with a great deal of professionalism, but the smaller, unmanned aircraft are another matter. The armaments on the Ababil may not be much more powerful than a rocket-propelled grenade, but the presence of Iranian UAVs buzzing American aircraft carriers or sharing the skies with civilian traffic, American fighter-jets, and helicopters suggests that they are an accident waiting to happen.