The Biden administration has embarked on a broad effort to halt Iran’s ability to produce and deliver drones to Russia for use in the war in Ukraine, The New York Times reported on Wednesday.
Sources quoted in the report described an expanding US program that aims to choke off Iran’s ability to manufacture the drones, make it harder for the Russians to launch the unmanned “kamikaze” aircraft and — if all else fails — to provide the Ukrainians with the defenses necessary to shoot them out of the sky.
In July, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the US had intelligence indicating that Russia is looking to Iran for UAVs.
A month later, it was reported that Iran had begun training Russians to use its drones, though it was also noted that Russia is experiencing “numerous failures” and technical glitches with the drones it purchased from Iran.
In September, Ukraine reported the first Russian attacks carried out using Iranian-made drones, targeting the south of the country, including the strategic city of Odessa on the Black Sea.
At the start of October, Iranian-made drones were also reportedly used in an attack in the Ukrainian town of Bila Tserkva, southwest of the capital Kyiv.
Russia has repeatedly denied that it received drones from Iran.
The breadth of the US effort to prevent Russia from acquiring the Iranian drones has become clearer in recent weeks, according to Wednesday’s report. The administration has accelerated its moves to deprive Iran of the Western-made components needed to manufacture the drones being sold to Russia after it became apparent from examining the wreckage of intercepted drones that they are stuffed with made-in-America technology.
US forces are helping Ukraine’s military to target the sites where the drones are being prepared for launch — a difficult task because the Russians are moving the launch sites around, from soccer fields to parking lots, according to The New York Times.
In addition, the Americans are rushing in new technologies designed to give early warning of approaching drone swarms, to improve Ukraine’s chances of bringing them down, with everything from gunfire to missiles.
All three approaches have run into deep challenges, sources said, as the Iranians are applying to the drone program their expertise about how to spread nuclear centrifuge manufacturing around the country and to find “dual use” technologies on the black market to sidestep export controls.
The New York Times report also indicated that, in the effort to stop the drone attacks, Biden’s aides are also engaging Israel.
In a secure video meeting last Thursday with Israel’s top national security, military and intelligence officials, Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, “discussed Iran’s growing military relationship with Russia, including the transfer of weapons the Kremlin is deploying against Ukraine, targeting its civilian infrastructure and Russia’s provision of military technology to Iran in return,” the White House said in a statement outlining the meeting.
While the statement did not offer details about how the two countries decided to address the issue, The Times report noted that the fact that the administration chose to highlight the discussion, in a quarterly meeting normally focused on disrupting Iran’s nuclear capabilities, was notable.
In a statement, Adrienne Watson, the spokeswoman for the National Security Council, acknowledged the scope of the broad drive against Iran’s drone program.
“We are looking at ways to target Iranian U.A.V. production through sanctions, export controls, and talking to private companies whose parts have been used in the production,” she said, using the acronym for “unmanned aerial vehicles.”
She added, “We are assessing further steps we can take in terms of export controls to restrict Iran’s access to technologies used in drones.”