Iran and Russia's Drone Programs Depend on Western Supplies and Support
We can stop them if we only try!
Please see my latest article in Asia Times on Iran’s Drones. You can find it here: https://asiatimes.com/2022/11/us-tech-powers-irans-killer-drones-in-ukraine/https://asiatimes.com/2022/11/us-tech-powers-irans-killer-drones-in-ukraine/
-It is time to crush Iran's supply network that makes its drone program work. And in doing so, we can also destroy Russia's access to Western high tech that is vital to their weapon's programs.
Thanks for reading Weapons and Strategy! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
The secret of secrets is that Iran has no semiconductor industry and Russia's is barely functioning. To build smart weapons of any kind, and drones in particular, you need integrated circuits and microprocessors.
Russia makes obsolete microprocessors, but they are too slow to be of much help processing video data or keeping a target for the weapon aim point.
Iran does not produce integrated circuits. It buys them from outside.
(Below the main circuit board in Iran’s Shahed-136 drone. It wasn’t manufactured in Iran but imported. Where did it come from? It is full of US electronics. This is the suicide drone that is being used to destroy Ukraine’s critical infrastructure.)
Both countries, beyond buying the piece parts they need, rely on electronics designs that come primarily from the United States.
Even things like Russia's new combat secure smartphone (which does not work very well) relies on stuff that comes from China, Korea, Japan or Taiwan. And it uses Google's Android operating system.
Russian defense and electronics companies have been systematically bilking their military sponsors and then importing second-class components to glue together solutions that "sort of work." Consider, if you don't accept the argument, the Orlan-10 drone. An American hobbyist would have been embarrassed building it. It is full of US, Japanese and European parts.
(Below: A Canon camera taken out of an Orlan-10 drone.)
To support their defense needs, which keep growing despite the economic and political troubles afflicting Iran, the Iranians are importing tons of supplies, a large portion from the United States. That means they have to part with a lot of hard cash (Biden has come to their assistance by giving them billions of dollars previously seized) and they must have an experienced acquisition network. The Iranian acquisition network is waiting to be uncovered. No doubt it works with willing western companies who order the parts and circuit boards that Iran needs, by the thousands. Who they are and where they are is TBD (To Be Determined).
Western firms including the United States have been willing to sell to Iran because most of the stuff they buy is not export controlled and, even in those instances where it is, there are no real penalties. Only a few little guys ever get caught, and usually these involve the export of equipment built exclusively for military products.
Meanwhile, Washington could care less. Fixated on the idea of stopping an Iranian bomb, the current administration is looking for a new Nirvana. Everything else they overlook.
Washington does not care if drones, rockets, cruise missiles target US troops in Iraq and Syria, and they could care less about what happens to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, except when they want Saudi Arabia to pump more oil. The evidence? The newest air defense system we are hurrying off to Ukraine to shoot down Iranian missiles and Russian smart weapons was never even considered to protect our own soldiers and Marines serving in Iraq and Syria. And Washington certainly does not care that Iran is shipping drones and drone factories to Syria to fire at Israel. That's Israel's problem.
When asked about these things administration officials say well, it is too bad, but most of the stuff going to Iran is not export controlled and is commercial.
That is official hogwash. Iran is under sanctions and new sanctions have recently been added on. The EU has Iranian sanctions and sanctions on Russia, as we in the US do. So the argument about controlled versus uncontrolled goods is largely irrelevant. Indeed, if the lawyers think there are loopholes, a simple Executive Order can fix that in a single afternoon.
The US has a golden opportunity to sock it to Iran and Russia but isn't acting.
What we can do
The first step is to cut off all electronics supplies to Iran and Russia. This can be done fairly easily by law under the general sanctions in place, or an Executive Order can do it.
The next step is to tell our allies and friends in Asia that the Executive Order applies to them. If they cheat then the US will act punitively against them. Given the importance not only of the US market but the American security umbrella, most of them will comply. The rest can be dealt with quietly and decisively.
The third step is to tell China to stop selling tons of drone materials to both Russia and Iran as these materials are fueling the war in Ukraine. China has openly said it does not want to see the Ukraine war grow worse and China worries about US and EU sanctions (which they must avoid to keep their economy alive). By comparison, the Iranian and Russian market is quite small. Both are cash constrained and neither can absorb much of China's electronics output. While China will lose some face with their Russian and Iranian allies, they will find it in their self-interest to stop shipping "war supplies."
The fourth step is to stimulate the FBI and CIA to go to work against the Iranian and Russian technology acquisition networks. Both agencies already have lots of information they are hiding from the public, maybe even from their boss in the White House.
How do I know this? The first reason is that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have collected numerous specimens of Iranian and "Houthi" drones, missiles and cruise missiles stuffed with American electronics. They have shared them with the United States, meaning the FBI, CIA, DOD, NSC and probably the State Department. It does not take extraordinary logic to ask the obvious next question: where are they getting this stuff? Who is helping them?
Even the UN has been asking these questions.
"The revelations were made when UN investigators probed the chain of custody of several components recovered from the debris of missiles used in attacks on Saudi Arabia as well as those seized in the Gulf of Aden. The evidence led to the discovery that a key component used in the manufacturing of the missiles was imported from Germany by a Turkish company in 2016.
"The component identified as 30.600 G OEM Pressure Transmitter was originally produced by German company BD Sensors and was used in the fuel-feed system of the missile. According to UN documents, the German company shipped the transmitter to the Istanbul-based Lonca Makina Sanayi Ticaret A.Ş., its only authorized distributor in Turkey."
Was there any follow up to the UN finding about Germany and Turkey? No need to answer the question.
The second reason is that Israel is strongly motivated to track Iranian technology acquisitions. Israel worries not only about Iran's nuclear program but Iran shipping weapons to Hezbollah and Hamas. It knows a lot about these weapons and what is in them. Because there are good relations between the CIA and Israel's Mossad, important information collected by Israel has been shared. Whether the sharing is truly reciprocal is anyone's guess.
But the bottom line remains the same: Iran and Russia are both reliant on the supply of critical parts for their weapons, especially for drones. We have a golden opportunity to cut off the supply, break up their acquisition networks, and put them out of business.
Given our commitment to Ukraine and the billions we are spending sending weapons there, why are we silent and why are we letting Iran and Russia get away with murder?