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Sifting Through The Wreckage In Israel
by James Dunnigan
November 14, 2012

An examination of the Iranian UAV that was shot down over Israel on October 9th revealed that some of the components were from Germany. This is no surprise, as Iran has been smuggling industrial goods from Germany for decades. While Germany has become increasingly aggressive in halting this smuggling, the goods still find their way to Iran, often via third or fourth countries and lots of false documents.

Meanwhile there is still a lively debate over what the purpose of the October 9th UAV flight was. Most Israeli experts appear to believe it was a publicity stunt because Iran and Hezbollah were desperate for a win, any kind of win, given the problems they are having in Syria and with the stronger Iranian embargo (they can’t sell most of their oil) and the resulting economic crises. Some say the Iranian UAV was the first of hundreds and an attempt to see if some of these UAVs, armed with explosives, could attack Israel’s nuclear reactor at Dimona. Iran claims it has sent many UAVs into Israel, but the Israelis doubt it.

Meanwhile, Iran continues to develop new UAVs. Earlier this year they introduced the Shaparak. This UAV weighs about 100 kg (220 pounds), has an 8 kg (16 pound) payload, and endurance of 3.5 hours. The Shaparak can operate up to 50 kilometers from the operator and at altitudes as high as 4.5 kilometers (15,000 feet). The October 9 UAV might have been this model, operating automatically via GPS guidance (from one preprogrammed point to another). If so it was a one way trip because of the short range of the Shaparak (about 1,000 kilometers).

The Iranians have been developing UAVs since the 1980s. The ones used most frequently are the Ababils. This is an 82 kg (183 pound) UAV with a 2.9 meter (9.5 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 249 kilometers from its ground controller. But it also has a guidance system that allows it to fly a pre-programmed route (using GPS) 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 well as the equipment needed to transmit video and pictures back to the ground.

The Ababil has been seen in Sudan and 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.


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