Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Seeks Dominant Role in Maritime Development

Maj.-Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, speaks about Iran’s new maritime strategy on the sidelines of a conference in Gilan on 8 November 2023.

“This scientific work of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Navy will be important for other organizations involved in the maritime sector.”

In November 2023, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei announced a new maritime development plan to jumpstart Iran’s “sea-based economy.” The next day, according to the excerpted article from the Iranian Ministry of Defense’s Holy Defense News Agency, former Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander and senior advisor to the Supreme Leader, General Yahya Rahim Safavi, expressed at a maritime conference the value of Iran’s coastline and sea resources. His comments reflect how the IRGC will likely seek a central, organizing role in the implementation of the maritime scheme.[i] Safavi understands that government contracts to build ports, lay highways and railroads, and erect apartment blocks will funnel tens of billions of dollars into IRGC coffers. The participation of both civilian and military universities at the conference highlights academia’s close cooperation with the IRGC, which includes collaboration on Iran’s ballistic missile and unmanned aerial vehicle programs.[ii] Safavi also noted that the IRGC Navy (IRCGN) would play an increased role in offshore scientific missions, conducting operations in the strategic Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf, where Iran’s oil and gas interests lie. The regular Iranian Navy, in contrast, focused on blue water operations in the northern Indian Ocean, Gulf of Aden, and further afield. For the IRGCN to take the lead on scientific missions gives it a reason to encroach on the regular Navy’s traditional area of operation in a way that may complicate the operational environment for other navies in the region. After all, the regular Iranian Navy tends to maintain professional relations, even with ships from countries with which Iran has no diplomatic relations.


“Major-General Safavi: ‘Eghtesad-e Daryamahavar’ az bistarha-ye Tahaval-e Navin-e Eghtesad ast” (Commander Safavi: The ‘Sea-Oriented Economy’ is One of the Foundations of the New Evolution of Iran’s Economy),” Holy Defense News Agency (official news agency of the Iranian Ministry of Defense), 8 November 2023.

Major General Sayyid Yahya Safavi, senior advisor to the Supreme Leader, stated shortly before noon on Wednesday [8 November 2023], on the sidelines of the national conference on “Emerging Maritime Opportunities and Threats,” told journalists, “This conference has been organized by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy with the cooperation of several civilian and military universities and will continue for two days in Gilan. It is the culmination of a year of scientific study and research. About 300 papers were submitted from public universities and both military and governmental organizations, of which 30 were selected.

General Safavi, with reference to the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic’s emphasis on maritime policies, stated, “Iran is blessed with a coastline of 2,700 kilometers [1,680miles] in the south and along the Caspian Sea. There are 20 islands, and these islands provide a great opportunity for economic development, paying attention to the maritime economy, resolving economic bottlenecks, and solving the problems of the water crisis and producing renewable energy….”

The advisor to the Supreme Leader added, “We hope that by announcing the policies with a ten to 20-year plan, we can better focus on augmenting the private sector, encourage academic study, and adjust foreign policy to better attract investment in Iran. By having a codified plan to use the scientific capacities of the country, we can solve people’s problems according to the values and natural blessings of our country.Emphasizing the necessity of maximizing capacity of the North-South and East-West transit corridors through Iran, he added, “Producing renewable energy and bringing fresh water from the shores of the Oman Sea, the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea to the central plateau of Iran are other goals that will be pursued. This scientific work of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps- Navy will be important for other organizations involved in the maritime sector.”


[i] IRGC firms dominate Iran’s construction industry, road building, and port operations. For discussion about the IRGC’s economic work, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran’s Proposal To Build Railroads and Housing in Syria Could Enrich IRGC” OE Watch, 11-2022.

[ii] For background on other aspects of IRGC-university partnerships, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran: Preparing for Zafar III Satellite Launch” OE Watch, July 2019.

Image Information:

Image: Maj.-Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, speaks about Iran’s new maritime strategy on the sidelines of a conference in Gilan on 8 November 2023.

Russia Details Plan To Overcome Military Drone Deficiencies

Russia and Ukraine are engaged in a drone war.  Here, an unidentified Ukrainian Special Forces soldier with small quadcopter UAV that will be modified to carry a small explosive charge.

“The military still faces a serious shortage of drones for strategic reconnaissance and subsequent strikes over fairly long distances. Saturating the troops with them would greatly increase our ability to identify and destroy enemy equipment accumulations and other priority targets.”

The use of unmanned armed vehicles (UAVs), or drones, on the battlefields of Ukraine has increased dramatically since the conflict began in February 2022. While Ukraine may have held the initial advantage, Russia continues to prioritize its drone capabilities.[i] In a recent meeting of the Ministry of Defense regarding weapons procurement, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu detailed the state of military drone procurement. According to the excerpted article from the Russian online publication Free Press, Shoigu noted that “Russia has trained 93,000 specialists to service the latest types of weapons, a significant part [of this workforce] of which are drone operators.” Shoigu also noted that drone operators were being trained at several military training centers “at universities,” and that the number of these training centers would soon rise from only 16 in 2022 to 139, although no timeline was given as to when all 139 training centers would be operational. The Free Press article also included an interview with Igor Korotchenko, the editor-in-chief of National Defense,[ii] a magazine focused on Russian defense and security issues, who noted that although Russian front-line troops were being “saturated” with drones, “the military still faces a serious shortage of drones for strategic reconnaissance and subsequent strikes over fairly long distances.” Korotchenko also noted that drones with these capabilities are being delivered to the frontlines but “the task is to saturate our battle formations with them as much as possible.” Finally, the article notes that at the end of 2022, Putin had declared Russia would boost spending on its military drone program from 4.4 billion rubles (approximately $48 million) to 92 billion rubles (approximately $1 billion) effective immediately, increasing spending up to 200 billion rubles (approximately $2.2 billion) by 2030.


“СВО: Российской армии срочно нужны дроны для наступления. По мере изменений тактики будут видоизменяться и модели боевых БПЛА (SVO: The Russian army urgently needs drones for the offensive. As tactics change, combat UAV models will also change),” Free Press (Russian socio-political online publication specializing in political, socio-economic and cultural news), 21 November 2023. 

Supplies of unmanned aerial vehicles to the army have increased 16 times compared to the beginning of last year. Sergei Shoigu announced this at a meeting of the Ministry of Defense dedicated to state defense procurement. The head of the military department also cited other figures: the number of basic types of missile and artillery weapons in the troops increased by 4.9 times, high-precision long-range missiles by 5 times, and armored weapons by more than 3 times. In total, the supply of the army with various means of defeating the enemy has been increased 12 times. At the same time, the state defense order for the needs of the Northern Military District is clarified and adjusted 2-3 times a month depending on the needs of the front. The breakthrough in the field of unmanned aircraft can be considered a special achievement because before the SVO, we paid practically no attention to this type of weapons, and in the first months of the operation, the superiority of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in this component looked deafening. Our soldiers had to make do mainly with Chinese quadcopters, which caring citizens bought for the front in regular stores. Sergei Shoigu also said that in 2023, Russia has trained 93 thousand specialists to service the latest types of weapons, a significant part of which are drone operators. A certain percentage of them are now serving in the Northern Military District zone. Students at military training centers at universities are also learning to control combat drones. The number of such centers will soon reach 139, although the first 16 were created only last year. Igor Korotchenko, editor-in-chief of the National Defense magazine, told Free Press about which drones are currently being used by our military in the Northern Military District zone, and which ones are in greatest need. Thus, the time when soldiers and officers had to master the control of quadcopters directly in combat conditions is over. And the drones that are now going into the army are no longer a mishmash of different Chinese toys. They are collected in Russia and are sufficiently standardized. — The Northern Military District zone is being massively saturated, first of all, with tactical-class drones, which are used for reconnaissance and attack operations against the enemy on the line of contact and the front line. These are mainly quadcopters. They can conduct surveillance and then be used like kamikazes. Such UAVs are most intensively used by the troops today,” says a military analyst. “The military still faces a serious shortage of drones for strategic reconnaissance and subsequent strikes over fairly long distances. Saturating the troops with them would greatly increase our ability to identify and destroy enemy equipment accumulations and other priority targets. The most important task is to hit vehicles with weapons and ammunition in a timely manner. And if we consider that our enemies are now preparing to redeploy F-16 [R1] fighters and ATACMS missiles with a range of more than 300 km to Ukraine, which can be launched from HIMARS[R2]  installations, then our strategic drones must be able to identify and destroy such targets. This task is now No. 1 for our engineers and designers. Until the end of 2022, drones remained in short supply in our troops. In December, Vladimir Putin instructed the government to prepare a national project for the development of unmanned aircraft. And in April, the president visited the capital’s Rudnevo technology park, which became a cluster for the production of UAVs. A meeting was also held there with the government and drone manufacturers. The talk in the open part was about unmanned civil aviation, but it is clear that any aircraft or copter initially has a dual use. During the meeting, the president gave a number of instructions. Among them is to increase the portfolio of government orders for unmanned aerial vehicles from 4.4 billion rubles to 92 billion, and by 2030 to 200 billion.

Technoparks for the production of UAVs, similar to the Moscow one, should be organized in all federal districts, and better yet, in all regions. Begin organized training and retraining of specialized specialists in the production and operation of UAVs.


[i] For additional reading on Russia’s increasing use of drones on the battlefield, see: Charles Bartles, “Russia Plans To Add Remote Mining UAV Platoons To Engineer Units,” OE Watch, 09-2023.

[ii] National Defense magazine is tied to Russia’s military industry complex and bills itself as covering a “wide spectrum of problems related to safeguarding Russia’s National Security.” For more information about National Defense, see its website:

Image Information:

Image: Russia and Ukraine are engaged in a drone war.  Here, an unidentified Ukrainian Special Forces soldier with small quadcopter UAV that will be modified to carry a small explosive charge.
Source: Combat Films and Research
Attribution: By permission of Combat Films and Research

China Celebrates New Turbofan Engine Design as Giving It a Strategic Advantage

China’s WZ-7 (“Soaring Dragon”) is a high-altitude, long-endurance drone, shown here
on display during the 2022 Zhuhai Airshow.

“With its inherent advantages of having a world-leading industrial system and strong production capacity, China already has an absolute advantage in the Sino-US arms race around UAVs, loitering munitions, and cruise missiles.”

China claims its new turbofan could give it an edge during a high-intensity war. According to the first article posted on the publicly owned Chinese Internet platform Tencent, the Institute of Engineering Thermophysics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences has developed a new-generation, low-cost, easy-to-manufacture turbofan engine, which can be used in high-speed, long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and missiles. A turbofan engine, first conceptualized in the 1930s is also known as a fanjet, is a modern variant of the gas turbine engine.

What makes the recent Chinese version unique is that it has a significantly reduced number of parts. According to the second article, published by leading Chinese Internet and gaming provider NetEase, there are only two stages, a fan stage and a high-pressure compressor stage. In contrast, according to the article, the U.S. Global Hawk’s turbofan engine has 13 additional stages. This less complex structure makes it 20 to 30 percent lighter and less expensive to manufacture than other turbofans. The first article argues that these simpler turbofan engines will allow China to produce them faster and increase “the operational efficiency of frontline combat forces.” For example, the People’s Liberation Army will be able to turn to private enterprise with lower technical capabilities than specialized military industrial complex to manufacture the new variant. Noting lessons learned from the Ukraine conflict, the article argues that “the side able to dominate the battlefield is often not the Ukrainian military with its advanced NATO equipment, but the Russian military, which can steadily supply less advanced equipment to the frontlines.” The article also notes that by leveraging its cost and production capacity to provide a continuous supply of units to power its weapons, China can ensure that “when a conflict does break out between [it] and the United States,” the U.S. military will not be able to “engage in a high-intensity war of attrition.”


Jiang Fuwei, “中美无人机军备竞赛,中国抢先立于不败之地,可以让美军更清醒 (In Sino-U.S. UAV Arms Race, China’s Advanced, Invincible Position Can Make the U.S. Military Sober Up),” Tencent (a major Chinese platform company that connects users, businesses, and industries with technology and innovation, 1 November 2023.

“Zhu Junqiang, director of the Institute of Engineering Thermophysics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said that they have developed a new-generation low-cost turbofan engine, and this new engine has been used in a certain type of high-speed, long-endurance UAV.

This type of turbofan engine reportedly adopts a very unusual single-shaft high-pressure direct-drive configuration, which integrates the compressor and fan that must be arranged separately in conventional twin-shaft engines, reducing the number of engine parts by more than 60 percent. This reduces the overall weight and size of this type of engine by 20 to 30 percent compared to conventional twin-shaft configuration engines with the same thrust, and it also reduces fuel consumption by 10 percent.

In other words, the emergence of this type of engine not only signifies that the performance of domestic UAVs, loitering munitions, and even cruise missiles using turbofan engines will be significantly improved, but also that the manufacturing costs of these types of equipment will be further reduced to what can be called a “formidable” level. With its inherent advantages of having a world-leading industrial system and strong production capacity, China already has an absolute advantage in the Sino-US arms race around UAVs, loitering munitions, and cruise missiles…

Once China can produce a new turbofan engine, which costs only 20 percent of that of the existing turbofan engine, even if [the engine] currently can only be used in weapons such as UAVs and cruise missiles, significantly reducing the overall cost can increase the output and equipment quantity of these weapons systems, thereby increasing the operational efficiency of frontline combat forces…

Due to the significant reduction in the number of parts, the degree of difficulty in producing this type of engine is greatly reduced…

Looking at the experience of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the side able to dominate the battlefield is often not the Ukrainian military with its advanced NATO equipment, but the Russian military, which can steadily supply less advanced equipment to the frontlines.

At this point, once the PLA can leverage these advantages in cost and production capacity, it can establish strong anti-loss capabilities and continuous supply capabilities for weapons such as UAVs and cruise missiles.

So, when a conflict does break out between China and the United States, the US military in the Western Pacific will not have the ability to engage in a high-intensity war of attrition with the PLA….

Jianduan Fangu, “我国研制成功高空低油耗涡扇发动机,战略无人机将傲视全球 (My Country Has Developed a Successful High-Altitude, Low-Fuel-Consumption Turbofan Engine and Will Dominate the World of Strategic Drones),” NetEase, (A leading Chinese Internet and gaming provider centered around premium content.), 26 October 2023.

The Institute of Engineering Thermophysics of the Chinese Academy of Science developed a high-performance, high-altitude, low-fuel-consumption turbofan engine, with greatly improved technology… First, the Institute of Engineering Thermophysics’ high-altitude, low-fuel-consumption turbofan engine has greatly simplified the engine structure. There is only one stage for the fan and one stage for the high-pressure compressor. The first stage uses a diagonal flow compressor, and the second stage uses a centrifugal compressor. The pressure ratio of each stage is very high, which significantly reduces the number of compressor stages. Comparing it to the Global Hawk’s engine, there are 13 fewer stages, which greatly reduces the number of parts. This reduces the complexity of the engine, which reduces fuel consumption and makes it cheaper.

Image Information:

Image: China’s WZ-7 [R1] (“Soaring Dragon”) is a high-altitude, long-endurance drone, shown here on display during the 2022 Zhuhai Airshow.
Attribution: CCA-Share Alike 4.0 Int

Russia Plans To Add Remote Mining UAV Platoons to Engineer Units

A Soviet/Russian made POM-2 [R1] fragmentation anti-personnel mine on display.

“The use of UAVs for the remote laying of anti-personnel mines will ensure the element of surprise when used in both the defense and offense…”

The war in Ukraine continues to drive changes in military units and doctrine. Innovative use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) has been a common theme for both Russia and Ukraine since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Both countries have modified UAVs to lay mines. The accompanying excerpted article from the Russian monthly Военная мысль (Military Thought) discusses Russian plans to formalize this capability by creating a “special mining platoon” within certain engineer units. Although this is one of the first mentions of how adaptations from the so-called “special military operation”[i] are being implemented into Russia’s version of a Modification Table of Organization and Equipment (MTO&E), it is unlikely to be the last. Other novel uses of UAVs, including as “suicide drones,” will likely be integrated into Russian MTO&E structures soon.


D.F. Evmenenko and S.I. Melnik, “Дистанционное минирование местности при помощи

Малых беспилотных летательных аппаратов (The use of small unmanned aerial vehicles to conduct remote mining),” Военная мысль [Military Thought] (monthly Russian military periodical), September 2023.

Combat actions in the special military operation do not have the characteristics of high intensity [warfare] and rapid battlefield changes due to widescale usage of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

The most widespread among them are multi-rotor helicopter-type devices (multicopters). Simple, cheap and reliable, they are easy to control and very maneuverable at low speeds and low altitudes. These systems can easily change targets in the field. In addition, such systems are easy to transport, scalable in size and load capacity…

The Second World War, military conflicts of recent decades, especially in the Persian Gulf region (Operation Desert Storm), and the US Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan show that their effectiveness increases several times when used suddenly and unexpectedly…

Although remote mining by aviation and artillery troops can be carried throughout the entire operational depth of an enemy formation, the remote mining capabilities of engineer troops are substantially more limited… The UMZ [R1]  and GMZ-K [R2]  universal minelayers only have a range of up to 200 m…

The need arose to develop a system that would allow the creation of minefields under any combat conditions in compliance with the requirements for safe the use of remote mining means for our troops.  As part of solving this problem, specialists from the Tyumen Higher Military Engineering Command School (TVVIKU) developed a device for discharging antipersonnel POM-2R mines…

The use of UAVs for the remote laying of anti-personnel mines will ensure the element of surprise when used in both the defense and offense…It is proposed to use UAV crews with mine containers in a special mining platoon (SMP) with 6 UAVs…The platoon consists of two squads, each with 6 personnel, 3 UAVs, and an all-terrain vehicle such as a UAZ ‘Wolverine’.

Characteristics of a Mine-Laying Multicopter-Type UAV (exact model unspecified in source)


[i] Moscow insists on using the term spetsial’naya voyennaya operatsiya (“special military operation”) or spetsoperatsiya (“special operation”) to describe its campaign in Ukraine.

Image Information:

Image: A Soviet/Russian made POM-2 [R1] fragmentation anti-personnel mine on display.
Attribution: CC BY-SA 3.0

Syrian Regime Forces Increase UAV Use Along Jordanian Border

An Ababil-3 UAV at an Iranian arms expo on Kish Island in November 2016.

“Iran has transferred many dual-use drones, with surveillance and bombing capabilities, to Daraa Governorate.”

Reported unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) use by Syrian regime forces and their allies along the border with Jordan has noticeably increased. Jordanian authorities claimed that they had intercepted at least five small drones smuggling weapons and/or illicit substances from Syria between June and mid-August 2023.[i] Two reports from Syrian opposition sources provide context to the recent uptick in UAV use by Syrian regime forces and their allies. The first accompanying excerpt, published by the Horan Free Gathering, an opposition group in southern Syria, stated that UAVs have been used to smuggle drugs since at least 2018, when the conflict was frozen in southern Syria. Recent clampdowns along the land border have prompted smugglers to rely more heavily on UAVs. The article claims that Iran has transferred several combat UAVs to Syrian forces in Daraa, making them “the regime’s new weapon in the province.” The second accompanying report, from the Syrian opposition media channel Syria TV, provides details on two recent Syrian regime UAV strikes against rebel leaders in Daraa Province. Per the report, both attacks were conducted at night using Iranian Ababil drones, and neither attack appears to have succeeded against its primary target, only causing damage to buildings. The reports note that the Ababil UAVs fly quietly at low altitudes and rely on human-planted targeting devices. While Iranian-backed regime forces have employed UAVs throughout the conflict, the uptick in their use in southern Syria is notable and likely to cause concern in neighboring Jordan and Israel.


“بين تهريب المخدرات والعمليات الأمنية.. الطائرات المسيرة وسيلة النظام الجديدة

(From Drug Smuggling to Security Operations… UAVs are the Regime’s New Method),” 19 July 2023, Horan Free Gathering (southern Syria opposition group),

The regime’s use of small drones to smuggle drugs is not new. Since the settlement process in southern Syria at the end of July 2018, it began to use to smuggle drugs to Jordan, mainly high-value cocaine and “crystal,” in addition to smuggling some light weapons and ammunition…

A source for the Free Horan Gathering confirmed that Iran has transferred many dual-use drones, with surveillance and bombing capabilities, to Daraa Governorate, and has trained officers and members of the Syrian regime forces on using them, making it the regime’s new weapon in the province.

“الطائرات المسيّرة في درعا.. تكتيك عسكري جديد يوسع نفوذ إيران في سوريا

(UAVs in Daraa… New Military Tactic Expands Iranian Influence in Daraa),” Syria TV (Syrian opposition media network), 4 August 2023.

From the beginning of last July until the second of August, 6 sorties were recorded by Ababil drones, west of Daraa, all of them flying after dark, according to what an informed source told Syria TV. On August 1, a drone targeted the house of the young man, Amjad Al-Mizal, in the town of Al-Yadoudah, west of Daraa, without recording any casualties. Abu Malik al-Zoubi, 35 years old, from the city of Tafas, west of Daraa, who witnessed the bombing of a house in the city on the 24th of last July, told Syria TV that an Ababil-2 drone targeted the house of journalist Muhannad al-Zoubi after midnight with a shell containing high explosives, causing substantial damage to the house…He added that these planes do not make a sound while flying in the area, and sometimes they do not emit light, and they fly at low altitudes to accurately hit their target…
A leading source in the opposition factions told Syria TV that officers from the Fourth Division recently supervised training operations for regime members on the use of drones at the headquarters of the Fifth Division in the city of Izraa in rural Daraa. The training included dozens of members of the regime’s army and its security services and aimed to improve their drone-handling capabilities, according to the commander. He added that the training focused on Iranian-made Ababil 2 and Ababil 3 drones, including those made locally, in addition to Quadcopters used by local militias to smuggle expensive crystal meth and cocaine to the Kingdom of Jordan and Arab countries.


[i] Jordanian authorities also reported other UAV interceptions earlier in 2023. In May, a Jordanian airstrike killed a prominent drug dealer in Syrian territory. For more on “Captagon,” the key illicit substance smuggled from Syria, see: Lucas Winter, “Pharmaceutical Drugs and the Syrian War,” OE Watch,December 2015. 

Image Information:

Image:  An Ababil-3 UAV at an Iranian arms expo on Kish Island in November 2016.
Attribution: CC 4.0

Turkey Parlaying UAV Sales Into Prominent Position in Emerging Multipolar Gulf Security Architecture

Turkish Bayraktar Akıncı UAV on display at Teknofest Aerospace and Technology Festival in 2019.

…Thanks to these agreements, hundreds of companies producing subsystems in the Turkish defense and aviation industry will expand their export portfolios…”

There is a growing perception that Arab Gulf monarchies are intent on diversifying their defense and security partnerships beyond the United States’ security umbrella. A recent analysis in the prominent Saudi-owned monthly magazine al-Majalla argues that this new “multi-polar Gulf security” architecture is caused in part by the perceived decline in U.S. security commitments. Turkey, the article argues, is among the key countries ready to play a greater role in Gulf security.[i]

A key element of Turkish global military influence has been the success of its UAV exports, especially the Bayraktar TB-2 drones, manufactured by the Turkish company Baykar.[ii] In September 2022, the UAE placed an order for 120 TB-2 drones—at that time, the largest order ever.[iii] With reports of limited TB-2 inventory due to production constraints and high export demands, the deal was expected to have a localization component whereby some of the elements of manufacturing and production would occur on Emirati soil. Baykar delivered 20 units to the UAE shortly after the deal was announced. Since then, there has been no official follow-up or public reporting on the matter. However, the 2022 Emirati deal has officially been eclipsed in value by a Saudi-Turkish deal for Akinci UAVs—the most advanced drone made by Baykar—signed during Turkish President Erdogan’s mid-July 2023 visit to Saudi Arabia. Baykar CEO Haluk Bayraktar explains that the deal not only helps align Turkey and Saudi defense sector priorities but is expected to have a positive windfall across Turkey’s defense industry, according to the second accompanying excerpt, from an interview published in the global defense-focusednewswebsite Breaking Defense.  The deal has an explicit localization component stipulating that up to 70 percent of each unit could be produced in Saudi Arabia.[iv] Involving Saudi military industry in the production process will not only ease the pressures on production in Turkey, but will also meet key Saudi “Vision 2030” goals for its domestic defense industry.[v] It will also provide a major boost to Saudi capabilities, after its arsenal of Chinese import UAVs have underperformed in the Yemen conflict.[vi] Turkey, meanwhile, is receiving a much-needed influx of Gulf money in the hopes of stabilizing rampant inflation and persistent economic volatility.


تركيا… الوافد الأمني الجديد إلى الخليج (Turkey… the new entrant to Gulf security),” al-Majalla (Saudi-owned news magazine), 24 July 2023.

The repercussions of regional fluctuations and the obligations to compensate for the decline in the level of United States security commitments have prompted the Arab Gulf states to change their strategies on three levels: diversification in sources of arms supplies, diversification in partnerships, and diversification in alliances. Although the United States remains by far the most important security player in the Gulf, diversification strategies have opened the door for regional, external, traditional, and newcomer actors such as China, India, Russia, and Turkey to become involved in the Gulf region. This situation has led to what can be called “multi-polar Gulf security,” which raises many questions about the prospects for Gulf security and the potential role of newcomers in the region…

It is difficult to predict the future in a highly volatile and unstable region, especially with the countless variables involved in each situation. However, with the current trend of the United States continuing to detach from the region and in light of Turkey’s rising regional position and rapid leaps in the defense industry, Ankara may have an opportunity to strengthen its position in the Gulf and advance towards an enhanced security role. However, internal, regional, and international dynamics must always be taken into account, and Turkey should stabilize its domestic politics, enhance its economic strength, and significantly increase its trade interaction with the Gulf states to compete with actors from outside the region and facilitate a potentially enhanced security role in the future.

Baykar CEO hopes massive Saudi deal paves path for Turkish defense firms in KSA,” Breaking Defense (global defense-focusednewswebsite), 10 August 2023.

“Our partners ASELSAN and ROKETSAN, with whom we collaborate, have also entered agreements with NCMS based on their technological capabilities. Thanks to these agreements, hundreds of companies producing subsystems in the Turkish defense and aviation industry will expand their export portfolios through new collaborations in this field,” Bayraktar said…“…Joining forces with the Saudi defense industry will accelerate Baykar’s rate and capacity of production, which is crucial to meet the burgeoning demand for the Turkish unmanned aerial solutions,” Kasapoglu said…


[i] For background see: Ali Bakir, “Turkey’s defense industry is on the rise. The GCC is one of its top buyers,” The Atlantic Council, 4 August 2023.

[ii] For more on Baykar and Turkish drone exports, see: Karen Kaya, “Turkey as a Drone Superpower: A Case Study of a Mid-Size Power Driving the Operational Environment,” FMSO’s Foreign Perspective Brief, 28 March 2023.

[iii] Over the past decade, Turkey’s military influence among Gulf countries was centered on its close defense and security relationship with Qatar. Turkish relations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE were strained for much of the 2010s. They thawed in 2021 when the Qatar embargo ended and a broader regional rapprochement began.

[iv] Jeremy Binnie. “Local production agreements signed for Saudi Bayraktar Akinci UAVs,” Jane’s, 8 August 2023.

[v] For more on the defense industry component of Saudi Vision 2030, see: Lucas Winter “Saudi Arabia and China in the Arabian Sea,” OE Watch,October 2016.; Lucas Winter, “Saudi Arabia and the UAE Streamline Military Industry,” OE Watch,January 2020.; and Lucas Winter, “Saudi Arabia’s Domestic UAV Program Slow To Get Off the Ground,” OE Watch,01-2022.

[vi] See: Lucas Winter, “UAV Technologies Proliferating in Yemen and Saudi Arabia,” OE Watch,07-2022.

Image Information:

Image:  Turkish Bayraktar Akıncı UAV on display at Teknofest Aerospace and Technology Festival in 2019.
Attribution: CC 4.0

Kyrgyzstan Acquires Turkish UAS, Showing Less Reliance on Russia

A Turkish TAI Aksungur twin-engine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle on demonstration at Teknofest 2019.

For 2.5 years, Kyrgyzstan has allocated 125 billion soms ($1.422 billion) to upgrade equipment.”

Kyrgyzstan has relied on Russian security assistance to help upgrade weapon systems and equipment for its armed forces. When the government announced in late 2021 that it had purchased two Turkish Bayraktar TB-2 unmanned aerial systems (UAS) for the country’s border guards, it marked a partial shift away from Russian systems that has continued with newer acquisitions.[i] The excerpted article from the independent news website Fergana Agency reports that Kyrgyzstan spent $1.4 billion over the past two-and-a-half years on its armed forces. The article notes that Kyrgyzstan acquired Bayraktar, Aksungur, and Akinci UAS from Turkey, as well as Pechora surface-to-air missile systems and Mi-8 and Mi-17 helicopters from Russia. It is unclear if the TB-2s are additional systems, but the Aksungur and Akinci and Russian systems are new acquisitions.[ii] The article also discusses the numerous conflicts that have taken place on the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border in recent years, suggesting one possible motivation for Kyrgyzstan’s desire to upgrade its systems. According to the article, last September both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan brought up additional forces during one clash that killed dozens, demonstrating how clashes in recent years have increased in scale. Overall, Kyrgyzstan’s military acquisitions are not a shift in the balance of power in the region, but it provides it an edge that Tajikistan does not have.


“За 2,5 года Кыргызстан потратил на обновление вооруженной техники почти $1,5 млрд (For 2.5 years Kyrgyzstan has spent almost $1.5 billion on upgrading military equipment),” Fergana Agency (independent Russian-language news website focusing on Central Asia), 21 July 2023.

For 2.5 years, Kyrgyzstan has allocated 125 billion soms ($1.422 billion) to upgrade equipment. This was announced by the head of the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) Kamchybek Tashiev at a government meeting…

Tashiyev noted that in 2005-2020, Kyrgyzstan spent 3-5 billion soms ($34-56.9 million) for the same purposes. For comparison, he listed that in 2021 alone, the country’s authorities allocated 32 billion soms ($364 million) to upgrade weapons, in 2022 – 53 billion soms ($603 million), for six months of 2023 – more than 40 billion soms ($455 million).

…According to Tashiev, Bayraktar, Aksungur, Akinci drones, the Pechora anti-aircraft missile system, Mi-8, Mi-17 helicopters were purchased.

“We didn’t receive all this as a gift, all this was purchased with state budget funds,” Tashiev stressed. …in recent years there have been numerous border conflicts between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The biggest one happened in September last year. Artillery and heavy armored vehicles were involved in the battles on both sides.


[i] For background on Kyrgyzstan’s acquisition of Bayraktars in 2021, see: Matthew Stein “Kyrgyzstan Conducts Exercise with Its New Bayraktars,” OE Watch, 05-2022.

[ii] One of the deliveries of new Russian helicopters took place a few weeks before the announcement by Tashiev, see: Kseniya Timofeeva, “Кыргызстан получил новый вертолет Ми-17. От России, но за свои средства (Kyrgyzstan received a new Mi-17 helicopter. From Russia, but bought on its own),” Kaktus, 23 June 2023.

Image Information:

Image: A Turkish TAI Aksungur twin-engine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle on demonstration at Teknofest 2019.
Attribution: CC BY-SA 4.0

Morocco and Algeria Strengthen UAV Capabilities With Imports From China, Turkey, and Israel

TAI Aksungur at Teknofest 2019.

TAI Aksungur at Teknofest 2019.

“Morocco issued a warning to Iran, which is accused of militarily supporting separatist and terrorist groups

Over the past year, both Algeria and Morocco have bolstered their unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capabilities by importing technology from China, Turkey and—in the case of Morocco—Israel.[i] As detailed in the first excerpted article, in October 2022, the Spanish news website OkDiario reported on a video showing a Chinese Wing Loong II UAV flying over Morocco, seemingly confirming that Morocco had acquired several of these platforms after expressing interest in them earlier this year. Also in October, as detailed in the second excerpted article, the independent Algeria-focused military news website Menadefense reported that Algeria, which has a Wing Loong II fleet of its own, had become the first export client for the Turkish TAI Aksungur long-range UAV, after signing a deal to acquire six units.

While China and Turkey appear willing to sell technology and deepen security cooperation with both Morocco and Algeria, Israeli-Moroccan cooperation has likely geopolitical implications given fears of Iranian and Russian meddling in the region.[ii] As shown in the third excerpted article, in September the Moroccan English-language news website Morocco World News reported that Morocco had acquired at least 150 small vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) unmanned aircraft from the Israeli firm BlueBird Aero Systems. The deal includes both the small WanderB model and a larger ThunderB model, as well as an agreement to build two UAV manufacturing plants in Morocco, the first of their kind. In the fourth excerpted article, in early October, as reported by the Moroccan news website Le360, an official from the Polisario Front, the Western Sahara independence movement that is supported by Algeria and opposed by Morocco, claimed that Sahrawi fighters would soon begin employing armed UAVs against Moroccan forces. These remarks prompted Morocco’s Foreign Minister to equate Polisario with Yemen’s Houthi Movement, accusing Iran of arming Polisario with Algerian complicity. Indeed, Moroccan accusations of Iranian support for Polisario are not new, as explained in the fifth article from the Qatari-aligned al-Araby al-Jadeed. While the accusations may have seemed fanciful four years ago, they seem less so now, given Israel’s quickly growing security footprint in Morocco and the fact that Algeria’s key security partner—Russia—is itself relying on Iranian military support in Ukraine.


Pelayo Barro. “Marruecos compra los drones militares chinos más modernos mientras España le regala 4×4 (Morocco buys the most advanced Chinese drones while Spain gifts it 4x4s),” OkDiario (Spanish news website), 2 October 2022.×4-9739842

The latest [Moroccan] acquisition has not been ignored by Spain’s military intelligence: new-generation strategic Chinese drones with air-ground attack capabilities and endurance of over 7,000 kilometers… Mohammed VI’s armed forces had previously eyed these drones – called Wing Loong II – and had even proposed acquiring them to replace a previous Chinese drone they had already employed in their war against the Polisario Front.

“L’Algérie achète des drones d’attaque Aksungur (Algeria purchases Aksungur attack drones),” Menadefense (independent Algeria-focused military news website), 7 October 2022.

The Algerian Air Force has ordered six Turkish MALE drones from TAI. They are the Aksungur, a larger, more modern, and better performing version than its Anka-S counterpart.

Aya Benazizi. “Morocco Purchases 150 Israeli Military Drones,” Morocco World News (Moroccan English-language news website), 22 September 2022.

Morocco has purchased 150 military drones of the WanderB and ThunderB types, manufactured by Israel’s BlueBird Aero Systems, a company specialized in designing and developing Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) equipment…

The agreement concerned the construction of industrial units in Morocco for the manufacture of Israeli drones.

البوليساريو تعلن أن الجزائر ستمدها بطائرات “درون” إيرانية لمهاجمة المغرب

Mohammed Ould Boah. “Polisario announces that Algiera will provide it with Iranian drones to attack Morocco,” Le360 (Moroccan news website), 4 October 2022.

According to the so-called “interior minister” of the Polisario, the separatists have obtained military drones, which they will use in their attacks against Moroccan territory. In the face of this dangerous escalation, Morocco issued a warning to Iran, which is accused of militarily supporting separatist and terrorist groups.

إيران والمغرب: تشيّع وصواريخ ودرونز

Abdelhamid Ajmahiri. “Iran and Morocco: Shiization, missiles and drones,” al-Araby al-Jadeed (Qatari-aligned daily), 11 October 2022. Almost four years after accusing Tehran of handing the separatist Polisario Front advanced weapons – especially Strela surface-to-air missiles – last week Rabat accused Tehran of providing Polisario with drones… It is clear that relations between Rabat and Tehran have entered a bleak zone, now that the [Western Sahara] conflict has been resolved in favor of Moroccan national unity.


[i] See: Lucas Winter, “Morocco and Algeria Bolstering Their Drone Fleets as Bilateral Tensions Rise,” OE Watch, Issue 11, 2021; Lucas Winter, “Morocco Denys Conducting Drone Strike Against Algerian Targets in Western Sahara,” OE Watch, Issue 12, 2021; Lucas Winter, “China Arming Algeria To Fight Its ‘New Generation Wars’,” OE Watch, Issue 8, 2022. 

[ii] See: Lucas Winter, “Algeria Sees Threat from Morocco as Western Sahara Conflict Threatens To Reignite,” OE Watch, Issue 6, 2022; Lucas Winter, “Algeria Likely To Deepen Military Ties with Russia as Morocco–Israel Security Cooperation Expands,” OE Watch, Issue 9, 2022.

Image Information:

Image: TAI Aksungur at Teknofest 2019
Source: CeeGee (own work),
Attribution: CC 4.0

UAV Technologies Proliferating in Yemen and Saudi Arabia

Wing Loong II side view, Dubai Air Show 2017.

Wing Loong II side view, Dubai Air Show 2017.

“…The plane belonged to the Saudi Air Force and was violating the armistice and carrying out hostile acts in the airspace of the capital, Sana’a…”

Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and counter-UAV technologies appear poised to continue proliferating and evolving in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.  The accompanying articles shed light on their use in this corner of the Arabian Peninsula.  In a span of four days in late May, Yemeni military sources claimed Houthi-led military forces in Yemen used “locally made” surface-to-air missiles to shoot down three UAVs belonging to the Saudi military.  The three UAVs were a Vestel Karayel [RG1] surveillance drone, a CAIG Wing Loong II [RG2] UCAV, and a CASC Rainbow CH-4 [RG3] UCAV.  The claims appear credible, although the only evidence presented were wreckage videos.  Yemeni forces did not specify how the drones were shot down beyond speaking vaguely of domestically manufactured systems.  Yemeni forces possess Russian/Soviet air-to-air missiles that they inherited from the Yemeni military stockpiles and modified to function as surface-to-air missiles.  They also operate Iranian air defense missiles smuggled into Yemen, most notably the “358” loitering air defense missile.  Saudi Arabia is seeking to produce UAVs and other advanced military equipment domestically and has signed co-production agreements with the makers of Turkish Karayels and Chinese CH-4s. 

Saudi Arabia has also recently entered into a joint venture with the China Electronics Technology Group to develop drones and counter-drone systems.  The latest incidents add to a growing list of over two dozen UAVs that Saudi Arabia has lost on the Yemeni battlefield, including over a dozen CH-4s and a handful of Karayels.  According to the accompanying excerpt from the Turkish daily Hurriyet, Saudi Arabia is thought to be in the process of purchasing Turkish Bayraktar TB-2 UAVs, perhaps in response to the underperformance of these other platforms.


@army21ye (Yemeni military spokesman Twitter account), 21 May 2022.

By God’s grace, this morning our air defenses were able to shoot down an armed spy plane, of the Turkish-made Karayel type, belonging to the Saudi Air Force. The plane was violating the armistice and carrying out hostile missions in the airspace of the Hiran region of Hajjah governorate. It was targeted by a homemade surface-to-air missile, which has not been made public yet.

Source: @army21ye (Yemeni military spokesman Twitter account), 23 May 2022.

Moments ago, our air defenses were able, thanks to God, to shoot down a Chinese-made armed CH4 spy plane using a locally made surface-to-air missile. The plane belonged to the Saudi Air Force and was violating the armistice and carrying out hostile acts in the airspace of the capital, Sana’a.

Source:  @army21ye (Yemeni military spokesman Twitter account), 24 May 2022,

The armed spy plane shot down by our air defenses at dawn today on the border front was a Chinese-made Wing Loong 2. It was targeted while violating the armistice and carrying out hostile actions in the skies of the Kitaf Directorate, along the border.

Source:  “Saudi Arabia to buy Bayraktar drones: Report,” Hurriyet (Turkish daily), 23 May 2022.

“The Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI) has expressed interest in Turkish drones and is ready for talks with the producing company, Baykar,” Lebanon-based Tactical Report wrote on May 22.

Image Information:

Image:  Wing Loong II side view, Dubai Air Show 2017.
Source: Photo by Mztourist via Wikimedia Commons,
Attribution: CC 4.0 (

Central Asian Forces Boosting UAV Capabilities

TAI Anka at Teknofest 2019.

TAI Anka at Teknofest 2019.

“Maintenance and repairs of the UAV will be carried out at a joint venture in Kazakhstan.”

In March 2022, Kyrgyzstan’s Border Guards carried out an exercise with their recently acquired Turkish Bayraktar TB2 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).  Shortly after that, Tajikistan’s defense minister visited Turkey and met with representatives from Baykar, the makers of the Bayraktar TB2 being used in Ukraine with much fanfare.  The meeting triggered speculation that Tajikistan is planning to acquire the Bayraktar TB2, but Tajik officials did not confirm this.  The accompanying excerpted articles report on drone-related developments in Central Asia and provide insight into the role they could play in the region over the next several years.

The excerpted article from independent Tajik news website Asia Plus reports on the establishment of an enterprise in Tajikistan for the production of Iranian Ababil-2 UAVs.  The article provides no additional details about the production capacity of the facility, but notes that the Ababil is used mostly for reconnaissance and that it can be equipped as a loitering munition.  The article also quotes U.S. Ambassador to Tajikistan as recently saying that the United States “would provide Puma reconnaissance UAVs to the Tajik border guards.”

The excerpted article from independent news website Fergana Agency reports that a new joint Turkish-Kazakh enterprise will produce Turkish Aerospace Industries’ ANKA UAVs in Kazakhstan.  The article notes how Kazakhstan “will become the first foreign country to establish the production of ANKA attack drones” and that the Kazakh government bought three of the UAVs last year.  The early variants of the ANKA were only for reconnaissance, but recent variants can be equipped with a munition and it appears Kazakhstan will use one of these systems.

Neither article states whether Tajikistan or Kazakhstan will put their jointly produced UAVs into service with their respective ministries or another security force.  The governments of Central Asia have always put a high priority on border security forces and if Kyrgyzstan serves as an example, the border guards of Kazakhstan and Tajikistan could be the recipients of the new UAVs.  Regardless, the announcements of two new UAV production facilities shows how much of a priority governments in the region are putting on UAV capabilities.


“В Таджикистане открылось предприятие по производству иранских беспилотников (An enterprise for the production of Iranian unmanned aerial vehicles opened in Tajikistan),” Asia Plus (an independent news website in Tajikistan), 17 May 2022.

…an enterprise for the production of Iranian Ababil-2 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) has opened in Tajikistan. Tajik Defense Minister Sherali Mirzo and Chief of the General Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Mohammad Bokiri attended the opening…

IRNA reports that the enterprise was built “in order to strengthen and expand joint defense and military cooperation between the two countries thanks to the efforts and assistance of specialists from the Ministry of Defense and support of the Iranian Armed Forces.”…Details about the production capacity of the facility were not reported…

The Ababil is designed primarily for reconnaissance missions… The system can also be equipped with up to 40 kg of explosives, turning it into a loitering munition…

Previously, the U.S. Ambassador to Tajikistan, John Mark Pommersheim, stated at a press conference that the U.S. would provide Puma reconnaissance UAVs to the Tajik border guards…

Source: “В Казахстане наладят производство турецких беспилотников ANKA (Production of the Turkish unmanned aerial vehicle ANKA is being set up in Kazakhstan),” Fergana Agency (an independent news website focusing on Central Asia), 11 May 2022.

The Turkish ANKA unmanned aerial vehicle will be produced in Kazakhstan. This was reported by Andolu Agency, referring to the producer of the drones – Turkish Aerospace Industries (TUSAŞ)…

Maintenance and repairs of the UAV will be carried out at a joint venture in Kazakhstan. Thus, it will become the first foreign country to establish the production of ANKA attack drones…

Last year, a contract was signed with the Kazakh side for the supply of ANKA UAVs to the republic. It was reported that Turkey, under this agreement, sold three systems to Kazakhstan…

Image Information:

Image: TAI Anka at Teknofest 2019.
Attribution: CC BY YA 4.0