February 9, 2023 | Flash Brief

Iran, Russia Expedite Building Drone Factory in Russia

February 9, 2023 | Flash Brief

Iran, Russia Expedite Building Drone Factory in Russia

Latest Developments 

Moscow and Tehran are moving forward with a project to build an Iranian-designed drone production facility in Russia, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report citing officials “affiliated with the U.S.” The report says a high-level delegation that included Abdollah Mehrabi, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps aerospace force’s research arm, and Ghassem Damavandian, chief executive of the Quds Aviation Industry, visited the proposed site last month near the Russian town of Yelabuga. Both visitors and their organizations are subject to U.S. sanctions.

Expert Analysis

“Iran continues to look for ways around American and European sanctions that might target the sale, supply, or transfer of drones to Russia as well as authorities that could enable the interdiction of these weapons. Washington needs to make sure that it continues to punish the Islamic Republic for its creative methods of arms proliferation while ensuring that Ukraine has the defenses it needs to offset and defeat these new drones on the battlefield.”
Behnam Ben Taleblu, FDD Senior Fellow

Iran Exported Drones and Trained Russians  

The factory will allow Russia to produce a variety of Iran’s loitering munition, the Shahed-136, a suicide or kamikaze drone that Russia has been using against civilian targets and critical infrastructure in Ukraine since September. The drones will reportedly feature an upgraded engine, enabling them to fly faster and farther than the current Iranian variants and making it harder for Ukraine to shoot down.

The Shahed-136 and its smaller version, the Shahed-131, cost a fraction of the price of Russia’s land attack cruise missiles. The drones have an estimated range of 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) and carry a light warhead. Russia rebranded the Shahed-136 as the Geran-2, and there are reports of Iranian military personnel training Russians to use them, with instructors even spotted in Crimea and Belarus.

Iranian Designs Produced Locally 

Iranian arms proliferation has varied over the years depending on the success of its adversaries to either interdict or destroy arms shipments. In the Middle East, Iran has moved from transferring whole systems to enabling the local production of select missile, rocket, and drone systems in order to avoid incurring the costs of detection and losing the munitions they are transferring. To this end, groups like the Houthi rebels in Yemen and Shiite militias in Iraq are assembling Iranian-designed drone variants locally.

Thwarting Counter-Proliferation Efforts

A drone facility in Russia would also be immune from counter-terror and counter-proliferation efforts against Iran by Israel, which has reportedly attacked Iranian military facilities on multiple occasions. Using modified quadcopter drones, Israel’s Mossad reportedly attacked an advanced weapons-production facility, which was located next to another facility that allegedly produced drones, in the Iranian city of Isfahan on January 29. Approximately one year prior, six similar quadcopters were also used by Israel to attack a drone factory in the western Iranian city of Kermanshah.

Related Analysis

The Arsenal of Tyranny,” by Clifford D. May

How to Help Kyiv Go on a Drone Offensive,” by Ryan Brobst

Iranian Shahed-136 Drones Increase Russian Strike Capacity and Lethality in Ukraine,” by John Hardie and Ryan Brobst


Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Missiles Iran-backed Terrorism Israel Military and Political Power Russia U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy Ukraine