March 18, 2012: Sudanese rebels claimed to have recently shot down an Iranian Ababil UAV, near the border with South Sudan. The Sudanese government eventually admitted it had lost another UAV but said it went down due to component failure, not ground fire. Whatever the case, it is not the first time the Sudanese have lost one of their Iranian-made UAVs. Several have been reported lost over the last three years.
The Iranians have been developing UAVs since the 1980s. The ones used by Sudan are the Ababil. This is an 82 kg (183 pound) UAV with a 3.2 meter (ten foot) wing span, a payload of about 35 kg (77 pounds), a cruising speed of 290 kilometers an hour, and an endurance of 90 minutes. The Ababil is known to operate as far as 150 kilometers from its ground controller. But it also has a guidance system that allows it to fly a pre-programmed route and then return to its ground controllers for a landing (which is by parachute). The Ababil can carry a variety of day and night still and video cameras. There are many inexpensive and very capable cameras available on the open market, as is the equipment needed to transmit video and pictures back to the ground.
The Ababil is also used in Lebanon, where Iranian backed Hezbollah has received about a dozen of them. The Israelis feared that the low flying Ababils could come south, carrying a load of nerve gas or even just explosives. Using GPS guidance, such a UAV could hit targets very accurately. Moreover, there's nothing exotic about UAV technology, at least for something like the Ababil. Iranian UAV development got a boost from American UAVs received in the 1970s (Firebee target drones).
Iran also has a larger (174 kg/382 pounds) Mohajer IV UAV, the latest model of a line that began in the 1980s. The Mohajer II is about the same size as the Ababil.