US releases satellite pictures of Russia site where it says Iran is helping to build drone factory

US releases satellite pictures of Russia site where it says Iran is helping to build drone factory
Image, provided by Maxar Technologies and released by White House, shows industrial site in Alabuga special economic zone where US intelligence assesses Russia with Iran’s help is building an attack drone factory. / Maxar Technologies
By bne IntelIiNews June 9, 2023

The US has assessed that an attack drone manufacturing plant that Russia is constructing with Iran’s assistance could be fully operational by early next year, National Security Council official and White House spokesman John Kirby said on June 9.

Kirby said that the US was releasing a range of newly declassified information to the public on what Washington has come to regard as a deepening “full-scale defence partnership” between Tehran and Moscow.

“This is a full-scale defence partnership that is harmful to Ukraine, to Iran’s neighbors, and to the international community. We are continuing to use all the tools at our disposal to expose and disrupt these activities including by sharing this with the public and we are prepared to do more.”

The route Iran uses to dispatch drones and other military equipment to Russia, according to US intelligence (Credit: US government).

Iran is thought by US officials to be directly shipping equipment for the drone plant, as well as hundreds upon hundreds of fully-built one-way “kamikaze” drones used in Russia’s war effort in Ukraine, to Russia via the Caspian Sea. Iran, said Kirby, was also using the route across the inland sea to send bullets and mortar shells to Russia, often deploying “dark” vessels, meaning ships that have switched off their tracking data to disguise their movements.

The US released a map on June 9 that shows the sea route Iran appears to be using to ship equipment from Amirabad, Iran to Makhachkala, Russia.

“Russia has been using Iranian UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) in recent weeks to strike Kyiv and terrorise the Ukrainian population, and the Russia-Iran military partnership appears to be deepening,” Kirby said in a statement.

US officials have also concluded that Iran has been shipping materials that Russia has been using to build the drone factory, located inside Russia’s Alabuga Special Economic Zone, around 600 miles (966 kilometres) east of Moscow. The US government released a satellite image dated April 3 of the assessed location of the claimed drone manufacturing plant.

In return for Iran’s military supplies, Russia, according to Kirby, “has been offering Iran unprecedented defence cooperation, including on missiles, electronics, and air defence”.

He added. “Earlier this year, Iran announced that it had finalized a deal to buy Su-35 fighter jets from Russia. Iran is seeking to purchase additional military equipment from Russia, including attack helicopters, radars, and YAK-130 combat trainer aircraft. In total, Iran is seeking billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment from Russia.”

Kirby also announced that the US was set to put out a new advisory to assist businesses and governments in better understanding how Iran is illicitly obtaining components to build its drones. The advisory would give information on how measures can be used to ensure there are no inadvertent contributions to Iran’s unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) programme. There are anxieties that despite restrictions Iran is managing to source plenty of commercially-available technology, including American-made microelectronics, on global markets for its drone building.

Kirby also stated that the transfers of drones by Iran to Russia constituted a violation of UN rules.

Iran was yet to respond to the new allegations from the US about its defence relationship with Russia, but Tehran has previously several times stated that the only military drones it has sent to Russia were dispatched during times prior to Moscow’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

Ukraine last week introduced sanctions against Iran that will not expire for 50 years.