As Russia forces continue their invasion of Ukraine, a new report Monday found that the Islamic Republic of Iran has been relying on Chinese parts for its drone program, despite increasing pressure from the US and its allies to choke off the global supply chain.
Investigators made the shocking discovery after a drone shot down by Ukrainian forces in April of this year had a high-voltage converter made in China in January.
Researchers concluded that the Islamic Republic of Iran could build and ship drones to Russia faster than many anticipated, thanks to Beijing’s fast shipping capabilities.
Upon examination of the downed drone, the Deputy Director of Operations at Conflict Armament Research, Damien Spleeters, said it offered hints of its production in Tehran with other foreign parts. Officials say the drone had an Iranian-made engine created by a company sanctioned by the US and its allies for its role in the regime’s military drone program.
“I’m surprised this is the first time we’ve been seeing Chinese Components in Iranian drones – we’ve already seen that the majority of Iranian drone components are sourced from the United States and Europe,” said Gabriel Noronha, a former State Department Advisor on Iran, and Fellow at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA).
The invasion of Ukraine last year has led to strains on global weapons supplies, with the US and its Western European allies struggling to provide Ukraine with the firepower needed to push back Russian military troops. As the US and European countries continue to enact severe economic sanctions against Russia for its invasion, Putin has relied on allies in the Middle East and Asia to support his invasion.
Last year, Russia turned to Tehran to meet its weapons needs, using Iranian drones and military experts to train Russian troops in their military operations. While Ukrainian officials say they have been able to shoot down Iranian drones, Moscow has not stopped deploying such military weaponry, straining Kyiv’s air defenses.
In May, the Biden administration said Russia depleted its supply of Iranian drones, leading Moscow to ask Tehran to send more for its military. Last week, the Biden White House said that Tehran had sent hundreds of drones to Russia on ships via the Caspian Sea.
The Biden White House confirmed the reporting in recent months on the Islamic Republic’s collaboration with Russia’s military to use the Caspian Sea to ship weapons and build a drone factory in Russia.
Noronha notes that the latest revelations “point to Beijing’s hesitancy to violate UN Security Council Resolution 2231 until its prohibitions on exports to Iran of long-range drone and ballistic missile-related goods and technologies expire in October 2023.”
National Security experts say that the new revelations highlight the challenges the US and its allies face in trying to stop the flow of parts from around the world to Iran’s drone factories. While global sanctions have tried to prevent the flow of parts from Tehran, analysts say they have had little impact. Others also note that sanctioning voltage converters is difficult, given their usage in commercial electronics.
China and Hong Kong have been used as distribution places for the Islamic Republic’s drone production, which has also gone to supply the Iranian-backed Houthi terrorists in Yemen. For the past few years, Tehran has relied on military drones to attack Saudi Arabian and Israeli oil shipments and attack Riyadh, fomenting chaos and terror in the Middle East.
In late January, powerful explosions damaged a weapons factory in the central city of Isfahan, which produced drones for the Russian military. According to officials, many believe the state of Israel was the one that led the operation, marking a devastating blow inside Iran.
“At that point, I think we’ll see far more Chinese weapons, components, and technology flowing to Iran, including for its drone program and potentially its missile program as well,” Noronha told The Foreign Desk.
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