The Israeli defence establishment was no doubt listening attentively to last week’s news that Iran had developed its 1,000-km (539-nautical mile) range Karrar Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV). The range of this weapon places Israel inside its envelope, but questions remain regarding the efficacy of this new aircraft.
Official announcements on Iranian television spoke of the UCAV being able to deliver two 250 lb (551 kg) bombs, or a single 500 lb (1,100 kg) weapon. As an alternative the drone could carry up to four anti-ship missiles.
So far, so impressive, but much remains unclear about this drone. It is one thing being able to design a UAV which can carry a weapons payload over such a distance, but in this respect, the Iranians are a good few years behind their arch-rivals Israel and the United States in designing drones which can deliver effects on target over long distances.
How, for example, do the Iranians plan to guide the weapon? How sophisticated is the drone’s inertial navigation package to get iron on target after a journey of up to 1,000 km? Moreover, how exactly do the Iranians plan to fly this drone through what is probably some of the world’s most heavily defended airspace? The Karrar might not be too difficult to knock out of the sky, given that the design is reportedly closely based on the Denel Skua target drone developed in South Africa. Using a target-drone based design may not make Tehran’s latest efforts all that stealthy.
Furthermore, there is little world on the passive self-defences that the drone may carry. Reverse engineering, a skill which Iran excels at, may well yield cut-price copies of western aircraft, but it may not provide reliable replicas of the sophisticated electronic countermeasures that western aircraft routinely deploy to protect themselves from air defence radar and missiles.
While the Karrar’s arrival may cause Israel to continue to take notice of Iran’s UAV capabilities, the apparent simplicity of this aircraft may not cause it too much concern.
By Thomas Withington