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August 24, 2021: Iran released promotional videos as part of an effort to win export orders for its latest armed UAV, the Mohajer-6, which 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 is different and Iran is trying 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, will 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.

Iran is also offering the latest tech for its GSCs (ground control stations), and the video pitch for Mohajer-6 featured video of 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), 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. About three dozen have been produced since 2017 and most of those are in use by the Iranian military (army, navy and IRGC). All Iran it needs now is export customers and Iran is making a major effort to find some. Price is cheaper than any competitors and negotiable. Ethiopia has apparently purchased at least three plus a GSC.

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.

 


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