Iran has supplied Russia with more and more military equipment, weapons and munitions for use in Ukraine. These sales have included several Iranian made Mohajer-6 UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles).
Since 2021 Iran has been offering Mohajer-6 to potential export customers seeking a reasonably priced armed UAV. Mohajer-6 is similar to older Israeli Heron UAVs but equipped to carry four small laser-guided missiles or smart (GPS guided) bombs. The Mohajer line of UAVs first appeared in the 1990s and were crude by comparison with Western, especially Israeli and American, UAVs. Iran could not find foreign customers willing to buy these early models but they were accepted and used by foreigners that received Iranian weapons to be used against Israel or other enemies of Iran.
Mohajer-6 was different and Iran sought to present this UAV as a cheaper alternative to Chinese armed-UAVs. China has dominated this export market because the United States, which was the first to arm large UAVs, would not sell to anyone who might use the weapons for terrorist activities, against American allies or any questionable activities. That worked for China, and Iran is seeking to compete with China on price. Currently Israel dominates the market for unarmed reconnaissance and surveillance UAVs. Israel rarely armed its UAVs because its armed force used them extensively to defend Israel. That meant that the unarmed UAVs could quickly call on fighter-bombers, armed helicopters or artillery to attack targets. Israel developed very effective maritime (coastal) patrol UAVs which appealed to many export customers as well as Western nations who could not get American UAVs because for most of the last two decades American manufacturers could barely keep up with demand from the American military. The U.S. eased up on its export restrictions after 2012 but by then China had grabbed most of the export market by selling just about anyone who could pay.
Iran also offered the latest tech for its GSCs (ground control stations), and the video pitch for Mohajer-6 featured the equipment used for the truck mounted GSC. There were some photos of earlier Iranian GSCs, which showed operators using bulky CRTs running pirated Windows XP operating systems. Iran does not like to publicize how backward its military hardware and software is so they deliberately revealed that Mohajer-6 was using flat screen displays running pirated copies of Windows 7. The use of pirated operating system software might appear to limit the export market but there are many countries, like Ethiopia, that are not bothered by that, and want fast delivery of less expensive armed UAVs. The Mohajer-6 has been in use since 2017 against Kurdish separatists and Syrian rebels and is thus “combat tested.” Mohajer-6 weighs 600 kg (1,300 pounds), has a payload of 100 kg and max endurance of 12 hours. Max ceiling is 5,600 meters (18,000 feet) and max speed is 200 kilometers an hour. Max range (from the GSC) is 200 kilometers. Production began in 2017 and by 2023 over 200 have been produced. Most of those are in use by the Iranian military (army, navy and IRGC). Iran eventually found export customers and Iran is making a major effort to find some more. Price is cheaper than any competitors and negotiable. Ethiopia, Iraq, Venezuela and Russia have purchased several dozen plus several GSCs.
Iran has long been an exporter of weapons, usually cheaper versions of Chinese and Russian assault rifles, mortars and RPGs. Iran has long had a trading relationship with North Korea in ballistic missile technology. Both nations are banned from exporting that sort of thing but desperation will find a way.
Russia has a larger UAV called Orion. Introduced in 2020, this 1.15 ton aircraft can carry a payload of 250 kg (550 pounds) but for maximum endurance (24 hours) only 60 kg can be carried. This is fine for surveillance missions but when carrying weapons, like Vikhr-1V laser-guided anti-tank missiles, which weigh 45 kg each and are similar in weight and performance to the American Hellfire, endurance is less. Orion has a top speed of 200 kilometers an hour and a cruise speed of 120 kilometers. Max range is 1,400 kilometers and Orion can operate at altitudes of up to 7,500 meters (24,000 feet). The first combat use of Orion was in Syria during 2019. This was successful and Orion was approved for production. The next combat use of Orion was in Ukraine, where they showed up in early 2022 and carried out combat missions. Unlike the opposition in Syria, the Ukrainians were more effective at destroying hostile UAVs. Orion is a large target while most Ukrainian UAVs were smaller, operated at lower altitudes and were used primarily to find targets for Ukrainian artillery or ground forces. Russia began to operate the Ukrainian way and that reduced combat losses for Orion. Russia developed a larger version of Orion called Helios. This was a five ton UAV similar to the American Reaper. The cost of the war in Ukraine has halted plans to mass produce Helios. There is also a twin-engine version of Orion in development but that model is also delayed by the war costs. Russia was eager to buy some Mohajer-6 UAVs because Russian defense industries are having a hard time producing all the equipment and munitions Russian forces in Ukraine require.