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  • Writer's pictureCDR (ret.) Eyal Pinko, Ph.D.

Iran Operates Unmanned Vessels

Updated: Mar 3, 2021

Iran with Hezbollah and Hamas Research and Development Organizations has been trying several years to develop unmanned vessels, which its naval forces will operate. Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah are trying to develop two types of unmanned vessels.

The first type is unmanned surface vehicles based on speed boats or fishing boats, converted to the remote operation or pre-mission programming. These vessels' purpose is in peace days to gather intelligence on Israeli forces and use them during a campaign against naval ships and gas rigs by a large number of explosives integrated inside their hulls. These platforms will become "suicide" vessels with explosives, operated remotely via wireless or cellular communication. They are equipped with sensing systems, such as radars and cameras, that allow them to be controlled remotely towards their target.

The second type of vessel is an underwater vessel or a semi-submersible vessel (called a glider). These vessels can stay underwater or at a low height above the waves, so the Navy's capabilities to detect them are extremely limited. These platforms, like the unmanned surface vessels, have similar missions.

Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah work to obtain knowledge, systems, and technologies for the development and production of such vessels, based on Iranian knowledge, academic research that can be obtained online and in professional literature but mainly based on reverse engineering upgrading commercial autonomous vessels. Commercial autonomous vessels can be purchased for marine research purposes and even on the Internet.

The Iranians are making significant progress in developing UAVs, and in Iran, they are even sometimes displayed in the media. Such vessels have even been used in suicide attacks in recent years against Egyptian and Saudi naval ships by the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The following picture presents a photograph from the attack carried out in March 2020 by an unmanned fishing boat of the Houthi rebels against a Saudi navy vessel.

Unmanned Fishing Boat of the Houthi Rebels

Iran and its proxies (such as Hamas and Hezbollah) understand that their naval forces will be primarily technologically inferior in naval warfare vis-à-vis the United States and it's allies.

Combining anti-ship missiles, sea mines, rockets, torpedos, fast boats, and unmanned vehicles with multiple attacks - "swarm" attack will enable Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas, in their prospectives, to overcome their inferiority on the naval battlefield with the United States and Israel.

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