Report: Iran built a guided missile in a drone’s body for rebels in Yemen

March 31, 2017

Popular Science:

Last week, Conflict Armament Research published an investigation into Iranian technology transfers to Yemen. The investigation links a drone captured in northern Iraq, a drone-like body that crashed near Aden International Airport in Yemen, and an intercepted shipment full of drone-like parts, all curiously missing surveillance equipment. What is a drone without a camera? A weapon.

The drones, all Qasef-1 models, appear to be one-use weapons, made to attack missile defense systems. Researchers with CAR examined drone parts seized by UAE forces, and in their report argue convincingly that the drones are not just a modification of an Iranian design, but were made by Iran. And, matching reports that these drone bodies were filled with explosives and launched like missiles at radars, the drone parts the researchers examined lacked any sort of camera or surveillance hardware.

To explain how this came to be, first we need to take a moment to examine the war currently going on in Yemen. In 2015, Saudi Arabia joined Yemen’s civil war, turning a conflict between Yemen’s former president Saleh and his Houthi allies against Yemen’s internationally recognized president Hadi into a broader war. The conflict is complex, and the scale of the tragedy immense, with infrastructure destroyed and the civilian population suffering both famine and aerial bombardment.

“The way our organization works broadly is that we partner with national security forces in order to gain access to material that they are seizing from non-state or terrorist groups,,” says Tim Michetti, a technical advisor with Conflict Armament Research. “We document it, we take forensic-level digital photographs, identify the system, then trace its history of possession through multiple means, cross reference it with things we’re seeing in other places.”

In question was the specific nature of the Qasef-1 drone, which the Houthis claimed as an indigenous design. As soon as the Qasef-1 appeared, observers noted how similar it appeared to Iran’s Ababil 2 drone. Suspicions alone aren’t enough to prove Iranian involvement, but it was a place to start, and if the connection was there, then Yemen’s civil war wasn’t just a fight between factions within the country, one of which had an outside backer. Instead, it would make Yemen’s civil war like many in history, a proxy war between other nations in the region that are arming and supplying different factions. Forces from the United Arab Emirates, who seized the drone parts, are fighting as part of the Saudi-led coalition backing president Hadi. While Iranian involvement on behalf of Saleh and the Houthis was long-suspected, little evidence before the seizure of these drones linked the two…

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International Cooperation