Footage suggests Iran is testing combat drones in Syria

The screenshot shows an Iranian Shahed-129 drone. The video was filmed in Damascus by rebels in 2014.
The screenshot shows an Iranian Shahed-129 drone. The video was filmed in Damascus by rebels in 2014.


Iran's support of both the Iraqi government and the Syrian regime in their ongoing wars with rebels and terrorist groups is no longer in question. The Islamic Republic offers money, weapons and information to both Damascus and Baghdad. They also provide surveillance drones. However, recent footage claims to show that Tehran is also testing out new combat drones in these war zones.

Hundreds of amateur videos— filmed by both civilians and jihadist fighters—show both the Assad regime in Syria and Shia militias in Iraq using Iranian drones.

Iran developed these sophisticated drones—including the Ababil, Mohajer and Shahed models. It's interesting to note that, for the past  thirty years, US and UN sanctions have banned the sale of weapons to Tehran.

According to specialists, most of these Iranian drones are surveillance mechanisms. Iran uses them to gather information on enemy positions, which they then share with the Iraqi or Syrian governments. Since these drones can transmit videos in real time, they also allow Iraqi and Syrian forces to direct more accurate rocket and artillery fire at their targets.

However, in late 2015, the Iranian state TV channel published a video claiming to have been filmed in an Iranian combat drone being tested in Syria. The footage shows both the trajectory of a missile and the final explosion when it hits the target. Even though the footage was surprising, it wasn't picked up by other media sources or shared on social media. 

When the Observers Team first saw this video, we set about trying to verify it. We had a few questions to answer.

This video, which was shared on Iranian state television, was purportedly filmed from an Iranian combat drone. We investigate. 

Does the video really show an Iranian drone?

The video published on Iranian state TV captures the screen showing the drone’s speedy movements.

The target sign as well as the small arrows visible on the screen are identical to the symbols visible in official videos of Iranian drones (on several occasions, the Iranian government has published videos from their drones as they conduct surveillance on American vessels, for example).

You can see that the symbols used in this official video filmed from an Iranian surveillance drone are the same as those used in the video purporting to show a combat drone (below).

The symbols on this video purported to have been recorded in an Iranian combat drone are the same as those in official footage filmed from an Iranian surveillance drone (above).

Was this footage really filmed in Syria?

You can actually see geocoordinates on the screen charting the drone’s flight path. You can’t see the full number, but you can see enough to tell it was filmed in Syria.

These geocoordinates seen in the top righthand corner of the footage are in Syria.

This screengrab shows the partial geocoordinates seen in the video shared on Iranian state TV. 

This same footage was actually used in a news report by Iranian state TV about clashes on the road between Damascus and Aleppo. The news report indicated that this combat drone had carried out a successful mission in southern Aleppo. The incomplete geocoordinates seen on the screen do match up with that region.

Does Iran even have combat drones?

According to official information, two Iranian drones-- the Shahed-129 and Karrar-- can carry out air attacks. The Shahed-129 can carry up to eight homemade “sadid” guided missiles, while the Karrar can carry 4 cruise missiles.

But as usual, separating the fact from the fiction about Iran’s air power is extremely complicated.

Read on The Observers:

Iran finally built a sophisticated drone! Well, maybe…

There is no solid proof that Iranian drones can carry out effective air attacks. Some videos do show Shahed-129 or Karrar drones launching missiles or dropping guided missiles. However, these videos are made up of multiple cuts and there’s no proof that the explosions shown in the videos were actually caused by the drones.

“Maybe Iran is just testing combat drones. It wouldn’t be the first time they tested weapons in Syria and Iraq”

We contacted a military specialist, who wanted to remain anonymous.

We do know that Iran has large drones that are capable of carrying missiles. However, up until now, there is no evidence that Iranians have actually used combat drones on any large scale.

We’ve seen lots of amateur videos of Iranian surveillance drones, but no amateur videos of combat drones have emerged. That’s quite strange. Moreover, if they were using combat drones, they would probably be using them on southern Aleppo. But, like I said, none of the militants in that region have posted videos showing these drones in action.

Maybe Iran is just testing combat drones. It wouldn’t be the first time they tested weapons in Syria and Iraq.

However, this video shared on Iranian state TV does actually look credible. For one, you can see the smoke of a missile that’s apparently launched from the drone [see video above].

Secondly, the explosion that you see is really small. That makes sense because the missiles that they carry are small. A lot of videos purport to show drone attacks, but the explosions in the videos are much too large to be from the small missiles that the drones carry. It is much more likely that the footage shows drones that are carrying out surveillance during an attack and relaying information back to the command centre.

Check out more articles on this topic by The Observers:

'Made in Iran': Iranian weapons in Iraq conflict

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Iran began to make drones in the 1980s after former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein attacked the country. During this period, Iran equipped its first version of the Mohajer model with RPG-7. Later on, they began to design and manufacture more sophisticated drones like Ababil, Shahed-125 and Fotros.