Iranian Suicide UAVs Blasting Ukraine Use Israeli Technology; WSJ Report Says Most Other Parts Made In US & Japan

Iranian drones employed by Russia in its invasion of Ukraine were found to feature Israeli-made infrared lenses, which are utilized for attack and surveillance purposes, WSJ reported.

The WSJ report includes documentation from Ukrainian experts who examined downed Iranian unmanned aerial vehicles and concluded that, despite a strict sanctions framework, most of the components were made in the United States, Japan, Israel, and other Western nations. 

The findings have startled Western analysts, prompting the US government to investigate. It also comes at a time when the West is starting to perceive Tehran’s arsenal of unmanned aircraft as a threat after their effectiveness in Ukraine. 

The discovery was made by Ukrainian researchers while investigating downed Iranian-manufactured drones, including a Mohajer-6 that was hacked mid-flight and landed intact.

A Mohajer-6 UAV was seen during a defense exhibition in Tehran. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Images of the Iranian-made Mohajer-6 analyzed by experts show that the high-resolution telescopic infrared lens in the device is similar to a model designed by the Israeli company Ophir Optronics Solutions Ltd. 

The WSJ was informed by MKS Instruments Inc, the parent company of Ophir, that it does not sell components to Iran and adheres to sanctions. 

On November 16, in response to the report, the Israeli Defense Ministry said that Israel is evaluating the findings. A preliminary investigation revealed that the lens in question is neither a regulated defense equipment nor a dual-use item.

Ukrainian intelligence believed that the infrared camera discovered aboard the Mohajer-6 was made by Oregon-based Sierra-Olympic Technologies Inc, which uses Ophir lenses.

The company’s founder, Chris Johnston, told WSJ that while some aspects of the device look the same, other parts are different, indicating that his company didn’t make it. 

Johnston said that the components might have come from downed Western aircraft in Iraq and Afghanistan or from middlemen who broke US sanctions. 

Western Components In Iranian Drones

In addition to the Israeli component, the researcher discovered around 200 other components from the United States, Europe, and other allied nations in Iranian drones used by Russia in its invasion of Ukraine.

Approximately half of the nearly 200 technical components in the captured Mohajer-6 were manufactured in the United States, with the other third manufactured in Japan. The report noted that Japan’s Tonegawa-Seiko Co made the servomotors of the drone.

The Tonegawa-Seiko Corporation was charged by Japan’s Trade Ministry in 2021 for illegally shipping servomotors to China without required approval after UN inspectors discovered one in an Iranian drone.

The company asserted that it was unaware they would be utilized in military drones. The Iranian drone also contained components from Arizona-based Microchip Technology Inc and Infineon Technologies AG, a German company.

The discoveries are the latest in a series of investigations and studies into Western-made parts found in Iranian drones.

Earlier this month, a Mohajer-6 drone was found to have parts made by at least 15 different technological companies from North America, the EU, Japan, and Taiwan, including from the US-based Texas Instruments firm, the Schemes investigation has found.

A part of an unmanned aerial vehicle, what Ukrainian military authorities described as an Iranian made suicide drone Shahed-136 and which was shot down near the town of Kupiansk, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, is seen in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, in this handout picture released September 13, 2022 (credit: MIL.GOV.UA/CC BY 4.0 ( WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
A part of an unmanned aerial vehicle, what Ukrainian military authorities described as an Iranian-made suicide drone Shahed-136 and which was shot down near the town of Kupiansk amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, is seen in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, in this handout picture released September 13, 2022 (VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

In response, Texas Instruments said it does not export parts to Iran, Belarus, or Russia. Tehran has a global procurement network of front companies and other proxies in other nations.

Daniel Salisbury, a senior research fellow with the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, earlier told RFE/RL that exporters mistakenly believe they are selling to an end customer based in the [United Arab Emirates] or another third country when in reality, the final user is in Iran.

In addition, the Institute for Science and International Security discovered components made in Austria, Germany, the UK, and the US in October after analyzing open-source data from the downed Iranian drones.

The Shahed-136, Shahed-131, and Mohajer-6 drones used significant amounts of Western-made parts. Meanwhile, it was also recently revealed that Russia had given Western weapons to Iran in exchange for drones that helped Moscow attack Ukrainian cities. 

According to a security source who spoke to Sky News, a Russian military aircraft also secretly transferred a shipment of military hardware provided initially to Ukraine by the UK and US but “fell into Russian hands.”

The latest investigation report once more exposed the vast network of Iranian-backed proxy companies operating worldwide to buy Western-made components for its drone fleet.