DUBAI — Amid high-level concern over Iran’s decision to supply Russia with deadly suicide drones for the fight in Ukraine, a senior British defense official told Breaking Defense he believes Tehran made a “big mistake” because it’s also an opportunity for Western powers to uncover vulnerabilities in the Iranian systems. He also cast doubt on the effectiveness of any Russian technology that may be transferred to Iran in return.
“Russia’s extensive use of Iranian drones” has enabled the Ukrainians and their Western allies “to detect the weaknesses within the Iranian technology and provide effective solutions to counter them,” UK Minister of State for Armed Forces James Heappy said on Dec. 21.
Russia has used the Iranian drones extensively in targeting Ukrainian civilian infrastructure, especially the country’s power grid. Heappy said he regarded the recent increased rates of success by the Ukrainian air defense in shooting down the Iranian drones, reportedly the Shahed-131 and Shahed-136 models, as evidence of the Iranian drones becoming compromised and losing their edge.
Ukrainian defense officials announced in recent weeks that their air defense batteries managed to intercept most of the Iranian-made drones launched by the Russian forces against the Ukrainian capital and other cities.
US and British officials alleged that Tehran will receive a variety of advanced military technologies and technical support from Russia to boost Iranian air power and air defenses in return for the drones.
But that’s also not terribly worrying to Heappy, considering how poorly the Russian military has fared in Ukraine.
“The Ukrainian war has revealed that the Russian technology was not too sophisticated and did not perform effectively on the battlefield as was expected,” Heappy told Breaking Defense. “Iran’s neighbors should not worry too much about this matter.”
Some analysts agree with Heappy’s assessment. “Russia does not have that much effective conventional technology left because they depleted most of their stocks in the war,” said Maurizio Geri, former analyst on peace, security, and defense at NATO Allied Command Transformation in the US.
Geri pointed out that the sanctions by the European Union and the US have deprived Russia of technology it needs to build its advanced weapon systems. “I do not know how much they have left that could benefit the Iranians, but I do not believe it would be much,” he said.
Heappy said that many countries that used to purchase Russian weapons are now seeking other sources due to the poor performance of these weapons on the battlefield in Ukraine.
However, officials in Middle Eastern countries rivaling Iran have voiced concern about the possibility of Russia passing on technology — especially if it includes hypersonic missiles.
These concerns were particularly raised by Israeli officials after the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) space unit General Ami Ali Hajizadeh announced last November that Iran has succeeded in developing a hypersonic missile. This would likely compel Israel to upgrade its missile defense system.
“Just the fact that the Russians have not been able to effectively employ their weapons technology in Ukraine does not mean that the Iranians will also be incapable of utilizing any new weapons technology (offered by Russia) effectively in their own operations,” said Bilal Saab, senior fellow and director of the security and defense program at the Middle East Institute.
“It is really less about the technology and more about the effective employment of that technology,” Saad added. “It does not mean that the Iranians will definitely be able to do better than the Russians, but there is a chance they could do better based on their record of success in aerial attacks in the region using unmanned systems and cruise missiles.”
Saab expected the Iranians to invest in building their airpower using new Russian warplanes they are expected to receive like the Su-35 air dominance fighters. “Unlike the Russians, the Iranians do not lack the ability nor the willingness to fight. They are really good at those things, and a new technology that could be provided by Russia will only enhance their capability,” he said.