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Iran's Long-Range Cruise Missiles and UAVs Pose Threat to Regional Stability and Global Security

Updated: Jul 26, 2023


Handover and Commissioning Ceremony of Martyr Abu Mahdi Cruise Missile


Iran's increasing focus on strategic maritime and aerial capabilities is evident through the adoption of long-range cruise missiles and the expanding use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The "Shahid Abu Mahdi" cruise missile and advanced UAVs. These advancements bolster Iran's asymmetric military capabilities, allowing for strategic options in offensive and defensive actions to challenge potential adversaries in the region. Moreover, they enable Iran to project power far beyond its territorial waters, assert its maritime dominance, and target U.S., Israeli, and neighboring states critical energy infrastructure and naval forces in the region.


During the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) war game codenamed "Fadaeeyan-e Harim-e Velayat 11 (Devotees of Velayat Airspace 11), military drills in the province of Isfahan, IRIAF's (Iraqi) Su-24 (Fencer) and old F-4 Phantom bombers and kamikaze drones successfully hit and destroyed mock enemy targets on the second day of the exercises. In 1991, Iran added 24 Iraqi Fencers to its fleet of Fencers, which had been evacuated to Iran during the Gulf War. It is possible that Iran also purchased other Su-24s from Russia or other former Soviet states.


Various combat, reconnaissance, and electronic warfare UAVs, such as Kaman-12, Karrar, Mohajer-6, and Arash kamikaze drones, have destroyed targets using different modified bombs Brigadier General Alireza Rudbari, the spokesperson for the drills, highlighted the impressive capabilities of the drones, with Karrar drones dropping 500-pound bombs on ground targets, outperforming previous fighter jets' capabilities; Mohajer-6 drones dropped Qaem bombs, an upgraded, smart and precision-strike bomb.


The operation was carried out following reconnaissance by RF-4 planes, Mohajer-6, and Kaman-12 drones, with precise strikes executed by the Mohajer-6 drone using upgraded Qaem bombs. The main stage of the war game with Sukhoi Su-24 and F-4 Phantom fighter-bombers carried out nocturnal operations and detonated the hypothetical enemy’s ground targets with Qased upgraded standoff missiles.


Major General Mohammad Hossein Baqeri, the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, asserted that the Islamic Republic of Iran's military preparedness is so formidable that no enemy would be capable of breaching or trespassing its airspace. Air Force Commander Brigadier General Hamid Vahedi further emphasized that the primary focus of the war game revolves around guaranteeing sustainable security, enhancing regional relations, fostering good neighborliness, and safeguarding the nation's air borders.


Meanwhile, in a ceremony held to mark the handover and commissioning of a large number of "Shahed (martyr) Abu Mahdi cruise missiles. (VIDEO) The ceremony was attended by Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Ashtiani, Minister of Defense and Support of the Armed Forces, Rear Admiral Tangsiri, Commander of the IRGC Navy (IRGCN), and Rear Admiral Kaviani, Deputy Commander of the Army Navy (IRIN)). The cruise missile was first introduced in August 2020. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Aerospace Force (IRGC-ASF) released information on a new cruise missile (Shahed Abu Mahdi) system similar to the Soumar (copy of Kh-55. Iran acquired Kh-55 cruise missiles from Ukraine and has since developed two ground-launched missile variants, the Soumar and the Hoveizeh.


During the ceremony, IRGCN Commander said that including the Abu Mahdi cruise missile would significantly enhance Iran's defensive capabilities, serving as a "potent deterrent to potential adversaries." He added that "Abu Mahdi" can be effectively deployed from naval vessels and coastal platforms, ensuring a formidable reach of 1,000 kilometers. "If an enemy vessel ventures deep into our waters, firing this missile would compel them to retreat an equal distance, neutralizing their aircraft carriers and rendering their planes inoperable," Tangsiri said that the strategic significance of this missile is evident in its classification as a sanctioned weapon, exemplifying its potential to pose a substantial threat to US aircraft carriers and other adversaries in the region.


Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, commander of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), was killed in January 2020 along with Qassem Soleimani, IRGC-QF Commander, in a U.S. strike on their convoy in Baghdad airport.



Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis top right

According to the Iranian press releases, the "Shahid Abu Mahdi" cruise missile has a range of over 1000 kilometers, possesses remarkable targeting precision, imposing destructive capability, and a unique ability to maneuver past geographical obstacles and enemy defense systems. The missile can fly at low altitudes, benefitting from advanced artificial intelligence in its flight path design and command systems, effectively evading enemy radar detection and adjusting its trajectory based on complex terrains. Implementing a dual radar seeker system equips the Abu Mahdi with efficient countermeasures against enemy electronic warfare, ensuring stealthiness while approaching the target.


Furthermore, the Abu Mahdi missile showcases a powerful engine and an integrated navigation system, enabling it to be launched inconspicuously from concealed positions within Iranian territory while precisely striking moving sea targets. Additionally, the missile's launch system is designed for swift preparation, allowing The missile's launch system is also multiple missiles to be fired toward a specific target simultaneously, enhancing its potential impact. The warhead of the Abu Mahdi is equipped with high explosive power, signifying its ability to neutralize various naval vessels, such as ships, frigates, and destroyers.


Iran press reports describe "Abu Mahdi" as compatible, adaptable, and versatile with mobile and stationary launch platforms, enhancing its deployment options. The missile's guidance system can update the final target position during flight, further contributing to its impressive accuracy. In conclusion, the "Shahed Abu Mahdi" missile exhibits many advanced capabilities, making it a formidable asset in Iran's defense arsenal with the potential to engage and neutralize maritime threats effectively.




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The presence of advanced long-range sea cruise missiles and UAVs enhances Iran's regional deterrence capabilities and projects its naval power beyond its territorial waters. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) and the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN) increasingly emphasize their ability to target maritime assets far beyond Iran's shores. This strategic focus is evident in the recent development and deployment of advanced anti-ship missiles like the "Shahid Abu Mahdi," derived from the Hoveizeh surface-to-surface cruise missile.


The Iranian development and deployment of long-range cruise missiles, along with the training and increasing use of drones by the Iranian Air Force, are significant components of Iran's assessments and preparations for potential conflicts, particularly concerning the United States. The ongoing incidents in the Persian Gulf, involving encounters between American task forces and IRGCN ships attempting to challenge freedom of navigation, have heightened regional tensions.


Iran's acquisition of long-range cruise missiles and UAVs enhances its ability to project power and target distant assets, including potential adversaries like the United States. Moreover, it showcases Iran's indigenous defense capabilities and technological advancements as well as a source of national pride and a symbol of Iran's sovereignty and independence.


These missiles are an integral part of Iran's asymmetric capabilities, providing it the means to strike close and distant targets- with precision and effectiveness. Long-range sea cruise missiles enable Iran to extend its reach and deter potential threats from a distance, with the ability to target naval vessels operating far from its shores.


Moreover, the utilization and advancement of drones by the Iranian Air Force offer an additional layer of asymmetric warfare capabilities. Drones provide Iran with a flexible and cost-effective means of reconnaissance, surveillance, and strike missions. They are already deployed to monitor regional activities, gather intelligence, and target American and other regional targets (mainly Iran opposition groups). Iran also "export" drones and missiles to its proxies (Houthis, Hizballah).

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On December 3, 2017, Iran-supported Ansar Allah, the military arm of the Houthis in Yemen, claimed that they targeted the Barakah nuclear power plant in UAE with a cruise missile. The Ansar Allah released a video (SEE BELOW) displaying what seemed to be an Iranian Soumar cruise missile. On June 12, 2019, the Yemeni rebel group Ansar Allah (Houthis), with support from Iran, declared responsibility for its second unknown cruise missile attack, targeting Abha International Airport in southwest Saudi Arabia.





The U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, adopted in 2015 to endorse the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), aimed to curb the proliferation of ballistic-missile technology by imposing restrictions on Iran's buying and selling of such missiles and related components. However, after October 18, 2023, these bans on activities supporting Iran's ballistic-missile program will be lifted. This decision raises concerns over the proliferation of Iran's ballistic missiles, which could threaten its neighboring countries in the Gulf, the Middle East, and global security.


Moreover, it may legitimize Iran's supply of missiles and drones to Russia, potentially escalating conflicts such as the war against Ukraine and its proxies in the broader Middle East. Iran might transfer cruise missiles to Hezbollah to target Israel's gas infrastructure and pose a threat to the freedom of navigation of the Israeli Navy.


In recent years, Iran has been actively supplying various weapons systems, including drones and ballistic missiles, to the Houthi rebels in Yemen. These weapons target energy and strategic infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Yemen has become a testing ground for Iran to evaluate the operational capabilities of its ballistic missiles, drone cruise missiles, and other weaponry in actual combat situations. This ongoing support to the Houthis poses significant security concerns for the region and has implications for regional stability and maritime security.


Iran's advancement of long-range cruise missiles and the growing utilization of drones align with their aim to strengthen military capabilities, driven by perceived threats from the United States and regional entities. These endeavors seek to afford Iran greater strategic flexibility, allowing for the initiation of attacks and retaliations based on its threat perception and national security principles, as well as safeguarding its interests and the ability to counter and challenge potential adversaries in the region.

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