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Iranian army tests drone capabilities in major military exercise

Published: Updated:

Iran launched exercises featuring a wide array of domestically produced drones on Tuesday, Iranian media reported, days after the anniversary of the US killing of a top Iranian general by a drone strike in Iraq.

Iran and the regional forces it backs have increasingly relied in recent years on drones in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Gulf.

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Iran’s armed forces are to test combat drones used as bombers, interceptors and in reconnaissance missions in the two-day exercises in central Semnan province, the semi-official Fars news agency said.

Iranian army forces flash victory signs as they pose for a picture at a large-scale Iranian army drone combat exercise in Semnan, on Iran January 4, 2021. (Iranian Army/West Asia News Agency/Handout via Reuters)
Iranian army forces flash victory signs as they pose for a picture at a large-scale Iranian army drone combat exercise in Semnan, on Iran January 4, 2021. (Iranian Army/West Asia News Agency/Handout via Reuters)

Beyond surveillance, Iranian drones can drop munitions and also carry out a “kamikaze” flight when loaded with explosives and flown into a target, according to a US official who spoke to Reuters last year.

Iran has developed a large domestic arms industry in the face of international sanctions and embargoes that bar it from importing many weapons.

Western military analysts say Iran often exaggerates its weapons capabilities, though concerns about its long-range ballistic missile program contributed to Washington leaving Tehran’s 2015 nuclear pact with world powers.

Iranian Armed Forces Chief of Staff Major General Mohammad Bagheri and other top commanders visit Iranian-made military drones in an exhibition in Semnan, Iran on January 4, 2021. (Iranian Army/WANA/Handout via Reuters)
Iranian Armed Forces Chief of Staff Major General Mohammad Bagheri and other top commanders visit Iranian-made military drones in an exhibition in Semnan, Iran on January 4, 2021. (Iranian Army/WANA/Handout via Reuters)

The exercises coincided with increased tensions between Iran and the US, two days after the first anniversary of the killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in a US drone strike at Baghdad airport, and two weeks before President-elect Joe Biden takes office. Biden aims to revive the nuclear agreement, though diplomacy is expected to be tricky.

On Monday Iranian forces seized a South Korean tanker in the Gulf, and Tehran also announced plans to increase uranium enrichment.

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