The Defense Intelligence Agency is inviting foreign officials to see debris recovered from drones downed in Ukraine and Iraq to show them what it says is “undeniable” evidence that Tehran is supplying Russia with a fleet of one-way armed aircraft for its war in Ukraine, according to analysts at the agency.
After having collected and analyzed debris from several drones shot down in Ukraine and in Iraq, DIA analysts are now presenting their findings to foreign governments, members of Congress and reporters to refute public denials by Iran that it is supplying Russia with armed drones for its war in Ukraine.
Iranian support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reflects a deepening partnership between the two countries and coincides with indications that Russian technicians are helping Iran with its space-launched vehicle program, which could aid Tehran’s goal of developing intercontinental ballistic missiles, a DIA spokesperson said.
The aim of the briefings on the Iranian Shahed drones is about “holding Iran’s feet to the fire” and providing concrete proof that the one-way armed drones flown by Russian forces and often used to attack civilian areas are made and designed by Iran, a senior analyst told a small group of reporters. The DIA declined to say which foreign governments have received a presentation from the agency.
The analyst presented the remnants of drones shot down in Ukraine, including parts of a wing and propeller engine, and a largely intact drone found in Iraq. The drones looked identical, with the same triangular design, wingspan, fiberglass fuselage and rudimentary propeller motor at the rear.
“The evidence is clear and undeniable” that Russia is flying Iranian-made one-way drones in Ukraine, the analyst said.
Although the aircraft were found thousands of miles apart over more than a year, the analyst said, the aircraft were virtually indistinguishable except for Russian Cyrillic lettering stamped on the tails of those found in Ukraine, spelling out the Russian name for the Iranian-made 131 drones, the Geran-1.
The analyst removed a component from the drone found in Ukraine and slid it into a drone recovered from Iraq. “It fits perfectly,” the analyst said as he inserted a square antenna panel, “like pieces in a puzzle.”
The drones recovered in Ukraine and Iraq carried serial numbers in the same location with similar sequences, and the fiberglass fuselage contained the same honeycomb material — a distinctive feature of Iranian drones, the analyst said.
The drones found in the Kurdish region of Iraq were used in an operation last year openly acknowledged by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which targeted Kurdish opposition groups, the DIA analyst said. An IRGC commander stated publicly that missiles and drones were used in the assault.
Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment.
Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian has said Iran supplied drones to Russia but claimed that the unmanned aircraft had been delivered months before the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
Russia also has denied using Iranian-manufactured drones.
Last year, the U.S., Britain and France demanded that the United Nations investigate Russia’s use of Iranian drones in the war in Ukraine, saying it represented a violation of U.N. sanctions. A 2015 U.N. resolution prohibits all countries from transferring weapons from Iran without advance Security Council approval.
The Shahed drones are relatively simple aircraft without cameras or sophisticated electronics and can be launched anywhere, following a pre-programmed route, the analyst said.
In Ukraine, the Russians rarely use the Iranian drones in combat and instead target buildings in cities to sow terror, deplete Ukraine’s air defenses, and damage electricity or water plants, the analyst said. The drones are launched in batches of more than 20 at a time, and the buzz of the drones’ propeller engine resembles the sound of a moped or a lawn mower, he said.
“The striking part is their simplicity,” the analyst said. “It’s simple, it’s cheap and it’s effective.”
The drones have electronic parts that “you can buy off the shelf,” he added.
The Shahed-131 carries a warhead of about 20 kilograms and has a cruising speed of around 125 mph, the DIA said.
In June, the White House released a satellite image of what officials said was a drone factory being built east of Moscow with Iran’s assistance.
The plant, located in the Alabuga special economic zone in the Russian republic of Tatarstan, “could dramatically increase the supply of these one-way drones” for Russia, a DIA spokesperson said. DIA believes that the drones currently in use were manufactured in Iran.
Russia already has used at least 400 of the Iranian Shahed drones in air attacks on cities and civilian infrastructure, according to the senior DIA analyst.
“As Tehran expands its capabilities and role as both an unconventional and conventional threat in the Middle East and beyond, it is more important than ever that we understand Iran’s military power and the threat it poses to our interests, our allies, and our own security,” a DIA spokesperson said.
In return for its drone deliveries to Russia, Iran appears to be receiving technical advice from Russian engineers to bolster its ballistic missile program.
Iran’s support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine coincides with indications that Russian technicians are helping Tehran with its space-launched vehicle (SLV) program, which could aid Iran’s goal of developing an intercontinental ballistic missile, a DIA spokesperson told NBC News.
“In the past year, Russia probably has sent technicians to assist Tehran with its SLV efforts and some aspects of its missile programs,” the spokesperson said. “In 2022, Russia built and launched a satellite for Iran.”
Last month, Central Intelligence Agency Director Bill Burns said at the Aspen Security Forum that there were “signs” Russian technicians were working on the space launch vehicle program in Iran “and other aspects of their missile programs.”
Dan De Luce is a reporter for the NBC News Investigative Unit.