Iran's domestic efforts to develop unmanned air vehicle systems have so far delivered only limited results, but increased investment and outside assistance could transform its fortunes within the next few years, according to Israeli sources tracking the nation's armed forces activity.

Tehran announced on 22 September that it has launched the mass production of 10 different variants of "radar-evading drones", with its army and Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps also showing one of the systems during a military parade. Iran claims that some of its new UAVs will be used to carry explosives, while others will perform reconnaissance missions.

One Israeli source says the attack drone displayed was of a basic design, and that while it could field an explosive charge, "the sensor is the heart of such a system, and I doubt if they have something really advanced".

Iftah Shapir, senior research fellow and director for the military balance project at Tel Aviv's institute for national security studies, says Iran has a policy to "magnify" the achievements of its defence industry. "They often give different designations to the same system, and it is obvious that not all the information they give is correct," he adds.

But Israeli sources caution that with additional money being invested in locally built systems and assistance coming from countries including North Korea and Russia, Iran could achieve better results "in the coming years".

Hezbollah guerrillas first infiltrated Israeli airspace in November 2004 using an Iranian-produced UAV, and an unarmed "Mirsad 1" air vehicle, derived from Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industries' 80kg (176lb) Ababil system, was shot down by an air force Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter during fighting on the Israeli-Lebanese border in August 2006.

Source: Flight International