So, Iran Has a Drone ...

By Brian Fung

Don't worry about it -- yet.

Revealed yesterday by high-ranking military officials on state TV, Iran's new, domestically-produced drone is allegedly capable of carrying bombs and missiles and has a theoretical range of 1,240 miles -- enough to cover Afghanistan and much of Pakistan to the east; Israel and Iraq to the west; and Saudi Arabia to the south. Video footage of the drone demonstrates that, at the very least, it's airworthy:

But how concerned should we be about Tehran's latest toy? According to the Council on Foreign Relations' Micah Zenko -- not much. So far, he told me, Iran hasn't been able to mount precision-guided weapons on the Shahed-129 like the kind U.S. drones rely on to perform targeted killings. And even before it can attack a target, the machine has to get there -- a task made more complicated by Iran's elementary command-and-control infrastructure. Even if everything went to plan and the drone escaped detection -- an unlikely event in any case -- Iran's military would still need to keep in contact with it to operate the thing.

"And," Zenko added, "since it is a country with a military budget under $10 billion and surrounded by perceived threats, they are compulsive exaggerators about what their military could do."

Of course, that doesn't rule out the possibility of surprises. Last year, the country managed to steal one of America's stealthiest drones through the use of a clever GPS hack, forcing an RQ-170 Reaper onto autopilot before feeding it false coordinates and landing it safely on Iranian soil. It's unclear whether Iran's own drone incorporates technology stolen from the Reaper, although military officials claim they've retrieved data from it and are trying to build their own version of it.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/09/so-iran-has-a-drone/262869/