Iran Moves Sea-Borne Drone Fleet Closer to Reality

Drone launches during surface and submarine naval exercises, August 2022.

Drone launches during surface and submarine naval exercises, August 2022.

“Today, the economic highway of the country in the Persian Gulf is safe.”

Iran increasingly uses its navy and its drone fleet to project power, and new reporting suggests that Iran has continued to make strides to integrate the two capabilities[i] In the excerpted article from the official outlet of the Iranian Ministry of Defense Holy Defense News Agency, Admiral Shahram Irani, who took command of the regular Iranian Navy in 2021, announced in November 2022 that the Iranian Navy would soon station drones and helicopters onboard its ships. This declaration, which partially repeats an announcement from July 2022 about launching drones from carriers, for the first time was accompanied by photographs of drone launches from both submarines and surface vessels, suggesting that the Iranian Navy has taken the capability to a new level.[ii] While Iranian officials often exaggerate Iran’s military capabilities, the Iranian Navy now appears to have attached a “drone section” to the Navy and made the skill set to launch, maintain, and operate drones more standard among naval personnel. Admiral Irani’s announcement that there would be a “massive” drone exercise in the Indian Ocean in coming months underscores that the ambition to activate a naval drone fleet is moving quickly from the realm of rhetoric to reality.

Such new investment in the Iranian navy continues an effort, now more than a decade old, to make the Navy the vanguard of Iran’s projection of power. Its operational range has expanded, with port calls in recent years ranging from Syria to South Africa, Sri Lanka, and as far as China.[iii] Yet, promises by Irani to expand the Iranian Navy’s operational range to the Suez Canal and Strait of Malacca exaggerate both the navy’s capabilities and Iran’s diplomatic room to maneuver. While Iran’s mention of separate Indian Ocean, Atlantic, and Pacific commands within the Iranian Navy are likely theoretical, they reflect a growing Iranian ambition to become a blue water navy and operate beyond Iran’s traditional areas of operation.


“Alhaq Balgardha-ye Hajumi va Pehpadha-ye Jadid ba Navegan-e Niru-ye Daryaye Artesh dar Ayendeh Nazdik” [“Addition of New Attack Helicopters and Drones to the Navy Fleet in the Near Future”], Holy Defense News Agency (official news agency of Iran’s ministry of Defense), 22 November 2022,

Admiral Shahram Irani added, “Soon we will have naval attack helicopters that will help is to escort our ships and also a drone section, and soon we will be equipped with modern drones. The Islamic Republic of Iran Navy’s carrier will cover a radius of at least 2,000 kilometers [1,242 miles] and carry unmanned aerial vehicle systems.” The command of the Islamic Republic of Iran Army’s Navy continued, “The Islamic Republic of Iran Navy’s drone carrier also has the capability to fly hundreds of drones in its waters and manage various missions with them.” He added, “Today, the economic highway of the country in the Persian Gulf is safe, and our fleets have strong activity in this area.” The Iranian admiral continued, “All ships of the Islamic Republic of Iran are under the escort of the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy’s combat carriers, and our combat carriers are conducting missions in three areas: The Indian Ocean command, Atlantic Command and Pacific Command.”


[i] For background on Iranian drone developments and strategies, see: Michael Rubin, “A Short History of the Iranian Drone Program,” American Enterprise Institute, August 2020.

[ii] For analysis of the July 2022 announcement, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran Reportedly Using New Carrier, Submarines To Expand Reach of Drones,” OE Watch, Issue 9, 2022. For Persian-language reporting on Iran’s quest to build an aircraft carrier, see: “Sakht-e Nav-e Havapaymabar dar Niru-ye Darya-ye Iran (Construction of an aircraft carrier in the Iranian Navy),” Asr-e Iran, 29 September 2011.

[iii] For more on the expansion of the Iranian Navy, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran’s Navy Expands Operational Range,” OE Watch, January 2013.

Image Information:

Images: Drone launches during surface and submarine naval exercises, August 2022.
Attribution: Borna News