Iran is preparing a massive arms shipment of 1,000 missiles and drones for Russia that will significantly aid Moscow's war in Ukraine, it has been reported.
Russia's campaign will receive a major lift with the delivery of hundreds more kamikaze drones and, more worryingly, short-range ballistic missiles supplied by Tehran, experts told The National.
It is understood that the consignment is being closely monitored by western intelligence services, particularly as it will be the first occasion that Iran has exported surface-to-surface missiles, potentially the Shahab or Zolfaghar weapons.
The arms are expected to arrive in Russian territory before the end of this year.
Military experts told The National that the new supply line means that Russia cannot be “discounted” from in the war, as Iran has a significant stockpile of missiles.
“Iran has developed an enormous quantity of short-range ballistic missiles and supplied that technology to the Houthis [in Yemen], they have also used similar technology in attacks in US bases, so we have prior knowledge of what they can do,” said Sam Cranny-Evans of the Rusi think tank.
The new missiles would also enable Russia to “continue targeting Ukraine’s population with greater lethality and destructiveness” in the coming months, he added.
Furthermore, it will also allow Moscow to “fill a hole over the winter” as it attempts to replenish its own depleted missile stockpile, made harder by international sanctions.
But Britain’s Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has also admitted that getting full-scale production for the NLAW anti-tank missiles, which have played a significant role in the war in Ukraine, could take more than a year, as stockpiles have been “hollowed out”.
“When you try and reheat the NLAW supply chain, you discover there's a shortage of the optics or the explosives and you have to start that all over again and that may take 18 months,” he told a parliamentary committee on Tuesday.
Iran has already exported an estimated 450 Shahed drones that Russia has used to terrorise the civilian population and destroy Ukraine’s electricity network. The Shahed-136 has a range of 2,000 kilometres carrying a 40-kilogram warhead, although Kyiv claims it has shot down more than 300 of the slow-moving aircraft.
Robert Malley, the US envoy to Iran, told CNN on Monday that the drones were being used to “target civilians and civilian infrastructure”, as reports of the arms shipment also surfaced in The Washington Post.
He added: “We know that Iran, in the face of all of this evidence, keeps lying and denying that it’s happening.”
Iran is playing a high-stakes game by also sending military personnel to annexed Crimea to train Russians in piloting the drones.
The policy has already affected the floundering negotiations to reimpose the nuclear agreement with the West in return for lifting sanctions.
And the impending arms shipment comes as the regime continues to face significant pressure from within following major demonstrations following the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody after she was arrested to failing to wear a headscarf properly.
Iran has denied supplying weapons to Russia, with an official previously stating it “has not and will not” do so.
But Ukraine is also racing to produce its own armada of unmanned aerial vehicles, including models that can shoot down other drones, the country’s minister of digital development has said.
The “war of drones” will be the “next stage in the development of ideas”, Mikhail Fedorov told Forbes magazine. Ukraine had contracted for 1,033 models with almost three quarters already delivered and the rest expected in the coming weeks.
The potential for a new form of warfare is now evolving in the skies above Ukraine that is also likely to lead to more civilian deaths and further destruction.