July 18, 2022

Technical specifications and historic usage of Iranian drones possibly provided to Russia

[Notice: The Critical Threats Project frequently cites sources from foreign domains. All such links are identified with an asterisk (*) for the reader’s awareness.]

Iran has used the drone models that Russia may acquire—the Shahed-129 and Shahed-191—extensively throughout the Middle East, including in attacking and collecting intelligence on the US and Israel. Iran has showcased its Shahed-129 and Shahed-191 drones to Russian officials twice in recent weeks, indicating the Kremlin’s potential interest in purchasing these platforms. These drones are among Iran’s most sophisticated systems, but the US and Israel have both demonstrated these drones’ vulnerabilities. We present our data on their technical specifications and historic usage to inform the discussion on Moscow possibly acquiring Iranian drones to  support its invasion of Ukraine.


Technical Specifications

  • Role: multirole (combat and ISR capabilities)
  • Range: 1,700 km[1]
  • Launch system: runway
  • Munitions: Sadid precision guided glide bombs[2]
  • Source: Iran Press

Operational History

Iran has used the Shahed-129 for external and internal missions since unveiling the drone in September 2012.

The IRGC used the Shahed-129 for combat and surveillance missions throughout the Syrian civil war, beginning around 2014. The IRGC used the Shahed-129 to strike unidentified targets in Iraq and Syria—the first ever known Iranian drone strikes in wartime—sometime in 2015-16. The IRGC also likely used the Shahed-129 to attack American forces in Syria in 2017. Unidentified militants used a Shahed-129 to attempt an airstrike on the al Tanf base, which houses American servicemembers, in June 2017, but the Sadid bomb failed to explode. The US shot down the Shahed-129 as well as a second days later near the al Tanf base.

Iran has flown the Shahed-129 around and into its neighbors’ territories. Bahrain claimed to recover a downed Shahed-129 off its coast in May 2013, which Iranian officials *denied. Pakistan *shot down a Shahed-129 that entered its airspace in June 2017. IRGC officers *have lauded the capacity of the Shahed-129 to conduct operations around Iran’s borders.

The IRGC has likely exported the Shahed-129 to Lebanese Hezbollah. Israel *shot down a Shahed-129 launched from Lebanon into Israeli airspace in October 2012. The IRGC and Lebanese Hezbollah used the drone to surveil preparations for a joint US-Israel military exercises and Israel’s military and nuclear infrastructure. Lebanese Hezbollah built a drone base that can accommodate Shahed-129s in the Bekaa Valley sometime in 2013-14 as well.

The IRGC used Shahed-129s for relief operations in Khuzestan Province in April 2019. Extreme rainstorms and flooding devastated Iran at the time. Floodwaters partially submerged some towns in Khuzestan and Lorestan provinces in southwestern Iran.


Technical Specifications

  • Role: multirole
  • Range: 450-1,500 km[3]
  • Launch system: truck-based launcher speeding down a runway
  • Munitions: Sadid precision guided glide bombs
  • Sources: *ANA, *Live Journal, Twitter

Operational History

The IRGC has used the Shahed-191 for external missions since unveiling it in October 2016 but less so than the Shahed-129. Israel shot down a Shahed-191 that entered its airspace from Syria in February 2018. The IRGC used the Shahed-191 in a drone and missile attack against the Islamic State in Syria in October 2018.

[1] The Shahed-129 uses a ground control station and datalink to operate, which may limit the platform’s operational range. (Source: TRADOC)

[2] The Sadid-345 is a guided glide bomb. Its exact specifications are unclear. The Sadid-1 is an earlier variant of this munition that reportedly experienced R&D setbacks due to US sanctions. (*Khabar Online, Medium)

[3] Iranian media asserts that the Shahed-191 has a range of 1,500 km, while unverified sources claim that the range is 450 km. (Sources: *ANA, *Live Journal)

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