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Iran's Karrar Drone: A Threat to Global Security

Updated: Jun 24, 2023

The "Mashregh" website, affiliated with Iran's Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS), published a lengthy article that details the Karrar multirole drone's various missions, launch platforms, and weaponry. The Karrar is a Fixed-wing Jet Platform unmanned combat aerial vehicle, medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE). Iran reverse-engineered it, and is a derivative of the American 70s Beechcraft MQM-107 Streaker purchased before the Iranian Islamic Revolution to be used as a target drone in defense exercises.

Karrar multirole drone

The "Karrar is produced by the Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company (HESA) under the Ministry of Defense. It is designed for various missions (including intelligence gathering, surveillance, and reconnaissance), precision strikes, and suicide interceptors, with a max payload of up to 227 kg. It is asserted that the "Karrar" products are being exported globally and undergoing large-scale production in countries with friendly relations with Iran.

The Karrar multipurpose drone is believed to have undergone several generations of development. All Karrar models can fly up to a height of 43,000 feet and a final speed of 900 km/h. In addition to the 113 and 227-kilogram bombs installed on "Karrar," it is also equipped with a variety of missiles and bombs like "Kowsar" sea cruise missile, Azarakhsh- air-to-air and anti-tank missile, Shafaq air-to-surface missile, Yasin (Mark 82 bomb with guidance kit), Balaban glide bomb, GPS Precision-guided munitions, and Simorgh cluster bomb. Karrar UAV can also carry rapid-firing guns (7.62 mm caliber).

Azarakhsh- air-to-air and anti-tank missile

In September 2020, as part of the Zulfiqar 99 joint army exercise in the Jask region, Iran claimed that a Karrar interceptor drone successfully intercepted three American aircraft, namely RQ-4, MQ-9, and P-8, repositioning them from the vicinity of the exercise area.

"Mashregh" hailed Iran's defense industries, stating, "By transforming the Karrar drone into ten distinct variants, the defense industry has accomplished a remarkable feat. These variants are designed for different missions, demonstrating the versatility and innovation of Iranian UAVs. Among these variants is the first-ever Iranian unmanned aerial vehicle equipped with anti-submarine and attack capabilities – similar to Mark 46 torpedo and anti-ship torpedo.

In a ceremony (April 2023), Iran's Defense Minister Mohammad-Reza Ashtiani handed over more than 200 long-range strategic drones equipped with missile capabilities and electronic warfare systems to Army Chief Abd al-Rahim Mousavi. During this ceremony, a diverse range of strategic drones, including the Karrar, equipped with distinct mission capabilities such as reconnaissance, destruction, combat reconnaissance, anti-radar operations, loitering, aerial interception, and engagement of both moving and fixed targets, were integrated into the army's combat structure. Notably, these drones possess the advantage of a low radar cross-section.

The Karrar UAV utilizes the Rocket Assist Take-Off (RATO) mechanism, employing a booster to provide initial acceleration. With the assistance of this booster and its engine, the Karrar can achieve flight with a maximum weight of 750 kg, including a 227 kg payload. Karrar is capable of landing without the need for a runway, and a parachute is employed for recovery purposes.

The Karrar Interceptor has a nose-mounted camera that can detect targets at a distance of 30 kilometers and lock onto them at 3 kilometers. The UAV's front camera also has 360-degree surveillance capabilities, enhancing its ability to detect aerial and ground targets.

The Karrar and various other drones are deployed on a range of surface and subsurface vessels of The Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN) and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN), each equipped explicitly with different types of drones suited to their unique flight ranges and operational capacities. The Islamic Republic of Iran Navy flotilla comprises logistics vessels like the Hengam-class Lavan, Delvar, and Hendijan support ships. Additionally, the Mowj-class Frigate Jamaran serves as the command center for the fleet, accompanied by two submarines, the Kilo-class Tariq and Fateh.

Over the past few years, the IRGC Navy (IRGCN) has expanded its naval operations beyond the Persian Gulf region, extending its presence to the Arabian Sea, the Red Sea, and the Mediterranean. While the IRGCN has been at the forefront of naval activities, it has received support from the Iranian Navy (IRIN) regarding equipment, personnel, and training during certain operational endeavors.

The IRGC-N often deploys forward-base ships, such as the Shahid Roudaki- a commercial craft converted into a support surface vessel or base ship - to gather intelligence in the Red Sea and enable rapid attack capabilities, including launching drones to increase its area of operations. During the November 2019 launching ceremony of the Shahid Roudaki, Iran proudly highlighted the capabilities IRGCNand vessel, including an array of surface-to-air and surface-to-surface missiles, radar and intelligence equipment, and various types of boats, helicopters, and drones.

Iranian vessel with Karrar UAV

The deployment of the Karrar drone as an interceptor exemplifies Iran's adherence to the principles of asymmetric warfare, a fundamental pillar of its defense doctrine. Asymmetric warfare is a strategic approach for Iran to overcome the technological advantages of more powerful adversaries by leveraging unconventional tactics and capabilities. The deployment of the Karrar drone with air-to-air missiles exemplifies this concept by offering Iran a means to level the playing field against technologically superior forces.

By incorporating air-to-air missiles on the Karrar, Iran introduces an element of unpredictability and increased risk for the opposing forces. This asymmetric approach challenges the conventional dominance of manned aircraft and creates a more uncertain environment for potential engagements. The Karrar's ability to engage incoming aircraft, intercept enemy drones, and provide defensive capabilities can disrupt the enemy's operational plans and impose costs on them.

Furthermore, Karrar's usage as an interceptor in waves of drone attacks amplifies the asymmetry. By overwhelming the defenses of air bases or aircraft carriers with multiple armed drones, Iran aims to create a complex and challenging operational environment for its adversaries, namely the USA and Israel (including Lebanon and Syria). The potential exchange ratio of multiple drones for a single-manned fighter jet significantly favors Iran, leveraging the cost-effectiveness and persistence of unmanned platforms.

Incorporating asymmetric warfare principles and integrating the Karrar drone and its air-to-air missile capabilities highlights Iran's strategic adaptation and innovation in the face of more technologically advanced adversaries. Iran seeks to cost-effectively enhance its defensive capabilities and project power by exploiting their opponent's vulnerabilities and employing unconventional tactics to proxies and militias in the Middle East.

Iran is using different UAVs, including Karrar, to attack targets across the Middle East: in the air, sea (to attack commercial ships) , and land, including in Iraq, Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon. The Iran-backed Yemen frequently exhibit the remains of Saudi UAVs that they assert to have successfully intercepted. However, they do not disclose the specific air defense system employed. Similar UAV air-to-air confrontations might have occurred in Lebanon, where Hizballah has declared shooting down Israeli UAVs. Iran-backed militants in Iraq and Syria target U.S. forces with unmanned aircraft.

Iran is proliferating UAVs to proxies and militias in the Middle East and to Russia (Shahed-136) to proxies and militias in the Middle East and for use against Ukrainian civilians. U.S. officials expressed increasing concern about Iran’s drone capabilities as a threat to global security and allies in the Middle East. The proliferation threat posed by Iran is evident in its supply of drones to at least five governments, namely Russia, Venezuela, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Tajikistan, along with support to seven proxy militias.


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