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? 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.
Iranian soldiers carry part of a target drone used in air-defense exercises. Iran is also turning some target drones into low-tech weapons for its proxies. Iranian soldiers carry part of a target drone used in air-defense exercises. Iran is also turning some target drones into low-tech weapons for its proxies. In January, a group of high-level military commanders gathered at an air base in Yemen.
To better understand ISIS drones, I spoke with an investigator at Conflict Armament research, who requested anonymity given the sensitive nature of the work. When the investigator entered the workshop, there were no completed drones inside. Instead, they saw plywood fuselages and styrofoam wings, as well as a missile from a man-portable anti-air defense system, or MANPADS. "For us it implied that they were trying to arm it, arm their drones with something that would be light enough to be carried by a drone, but also that would have the right kind of explosives for potency," they said. Many of their finding were published in a report on the Islamic State's Weaponized Drones.
When the US Air Force deployed Gorgon Stare, a drone video system that consists of 368 cameras covering nearly 40 square miles at a time, in 2011, an official declared, "we can see everything." The technology, named after snake-haired mythological creatures whose gazes turn people to stone, can surveil an area for hours at a time, take composite images of 1.8 billion pixels each, and create several terabytes of data every minute.
In normal times, the Officers Club on Riyadh's King Abdul Aziz Road is a rather secretive place. But last Wednesday evening, there was a line of visitors snaking away from its door. Arabic could be heard, along with English and a few fragments of French. After the security inspection, visitors enter a darkened hallway, reminiscent of a movie theater, that lead to a lecture hall: blue plush seats in ascending rows facing a brightly lit wood-paneled stage. It is generally a place where senior military officers gather to discuss their secret plans, but last week, it played host to around 80 diplomats and several international journalists, there at the invitation of the world's most important oil exporting nation. Among them were high-ranking officials in flowing robes. It was a rather unique event: The Saudi military was putting its wounds on display to the world.