This announcement comes one day after Iran presented several other pieces of new military hardware in a parade to mark the beginning of “Sacred Defense Week,” the celebration of the anniversary of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War. Other events are set to follow during the rest of the week, and will further emphasize Iranian military capabilities, which some officials have described as being sufficient for effective use in a war against the United States.
Such claims are widely understood to be overstatements of Iran’s strength, although they are advanced by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and by various politicians and clerics including the supreme leader. As such, these overstatements presumably hold some sway among the regime’s followers. But in Iran, where social media is outlawed and academic freedom is restrained by government forces, it is difficult to objectively assess what portion of the population believes that Iranian military capabilities would allow it to stand toe-to-toe with a global superpower.
While many Iranians use illegal software and satellite hook-ups to reach Western media in spite of government restrictions, others have access only to state-approved media and are thus only exposed to rhetorical and exaggerated claims about Iran’s military. In absence of objective, foreign assessments, it remains possible that Tuesday’s state media announcement is an example of this.
In his comments to Fars news agency, General Hatami said, “These new drones are capable of destroying different types of aircraft, including fighters, drones and helicopters.” However his comments were lacking in any technical detail that would substantiate these claims.
In the past, representatives of the IRGC have declared that they were prepared to send their existing drone aircraft on missions against US Navy targets in the Persian Gulf, in the event that a war broke out. These same figures have also asserted that they were capable of sinking US aircraft carriers in under a minute, based on exercises that they had conducted using a so-called replica of such a naval vessel.
Western analysts, however, dismissed these claims, noting that the ship in question could not reasonably be called a replica. Satellite images of it indicated that it was not capable of maneuvering and seemed to be only barely buoyant. Presumably, the Iranian attempt at replication was based not on technical understanding of US aircraft carriers, but only on the superficial appearance of such ships.
Similarly, in May the IRGC claimed to have built a working reproduction of a US RQ-170 Sentinel drone that had crashed in Iran three years earlier. Iran claimed to have jammed the aircrafts controls, recovered it intact, and downloaded sensitive information, but the US disputed all of these claims. In any event, aircraft industry analysts who reviewed footage of the alleged reproduction reported that it appeared to be nothing more than a fiberglass model.
Since that time, Iranian overstatements of the nation’s military preparedness appear to have put more emphasis on homegrown technologies. This is perhaps part of a strategy to claim that the Iranian military has effectively caught up to the world’s most advanced militaries. Monday’s parade and Tuesday’s drone announcement may be examples of this strategy, as they both supposedly represent advanced weapons systems created exclusively by Iranian manufacturers.
Last month, officials claimed to have shot down an Israeli-made drone on a mission to the Natanz nuclear site. IRGC Brigadier General Hossein Salami asserted that Iran was capable of extracting the technical details from the downed craft, but that doing so would not reveal any information that wasn’t already familiar to Iran.
This may be true, in that some analysts have questioned whether the Israeli-made drone existed at all. It has been claimed that the drone that Iran says it captured could not have made the claimed flight, and that the photographs released to the media may have actually been of an Iranian drone that was either shot down deliberately or crashed in an accident.
Although Iran has certainly made a habit of exaggerating its military capabilities, the extent of that exaggeration is somewhat in doubt. The technical details of new drones and missiles may be unknown, but they do appear to be advancements on prior Iranian defense systems. Indeed, Iran has even been credited with helping the terrorist group Hamas to improve its domestic missile production and to expand the range of those missiles by some 33 percent in the past year.
At the same time, Iran may be forming military partnerships. This was poignantly illustrated by the announcement on Monday that Chinese ships had docked at an Iranian port for the first time in history, at the start of four days of joint military exercises.
In light of all this, the Iranian governments celebration of Sacred Defense Week illustrates the fact that despite possible slowdowns, Iran’s nuclear capabilities are nonetheless growing more advanced year after year.