Timeline: Iran-Russia Collaboration on Drones

In August 2022, Iran’s supply of lethal drones to Russia sparked international interest and alarm. By December, Iran had reportedly supplied more than 1,700 drones capable of suicide bombings, surveillance and intelligence, and combat, according to Ukrainian military intelligence. By early 2023, Tehran and Moscow had reportedly developed plans to produce some 6,000 Iranian models at a new facility in Russia. The following is a timeline of Iran’s exports to Russia and Russia’s usage of Iranian drones.

Shahed-129 Drone
The Shahed-129 is the most used drone in Iran’s fleet

June 8, 2022: Russian officials reportedly visited Kashan Airfield in central Iran to inspect the Shahed-129 and Shahed- 191 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Both can carry out reconnaissance and attack missions.

July 5, 2022: A second Russian delegation visited Kashan Airfield to examine Iranian drone technology.

Jul. 11, 2022: White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan revealed that Iran was preparing to provide Russia with “up to several hundred” drones for use in the war on Ukraine.

Aug. 5, 2022: Iran had transferred 46 UAVs, including Shahed-129s, to Russia for use against Ukraine, said Oleksiy Arestovych, a Ukrainian presidential advisor.

Aug. 11, 2022: The State Department confirmed that Russian officials had been trained on drone technology in Iran “in the last several weeks.”

Aug. 19, 2022: Russian cargo planes carrying at least three types of Iranian drones – the Shahed-129, the Shahed-191 and the Mohajer-6 – departed Tehran. All three can carry out reconnaissance and attack missions.

Aug. 20, 2022: A Russian military aircraft flew to Tehran with:

  • $145 million in cash
  • a British NLAW anti-tank missile
  • a U.S. Javelin anti-tank missile
  • a U.S. Stinger anti-aircraft missile

The British and American munitions were in a shipment originally meant for Ukraine, according to Sky News. But Russia intercepted the munitions. In return, Iran provided Russia with 160 UAVs, including 100 Shahed-136 suicide drones.

Aug. 30, 2022: The Iranian drones sent to Russia experienced “numerous failures” during tests, U.S. officials told the Associated Press.

Late August 2022: Russia fired Iranian-made Shahed-136 suicide drones at Ukrainian troops near Chuguyev during the Kharkiv counteroffensive.  “It blew the triple-seven in half,” said Col. Rodion Kulagin, a Ukrainian artillery commander. “Instead of firing 100 artillery shells, it’s easier to release one of these drones.”

Sept. 13, 2022: Ukraine shot down a Shahed-136 drone in the Kupiansk region during a new Ukrainian offensive.

Shahed-136 launcher
A truck-mounted Shahed-136 drone launcher

Sept. 23, 2022: Russia fired Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones at an administrative building in the southern city of Odessa.

Oct. 05, 2022: For the first time, Russia fired six Shahed drones on Bila Tserkva in the Kyiv region.

Oct. 14, 2022: Iran dispatched dozens Revolutionary Guards specialists to eastern and southern Ukraine to train the Russian military on drones.

Oct. 15, 2022: Iran’s foreign ministry denied supplying Russia with drones. “The Islamic Republic of Iran has not and will not provide any weapon to be used in the war in Ukraine,” said Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.

Oct. 17, 2022: Russia launched 28 suicide drones on Kyiv, killing four civilians and destroying several buildings in the capital. Ukraine claimed to have shot down 13 of the drones.

Oct. 17, 2022: Ukraine reportedly shot down 37 drones over three days, destroying more than 80 percent of the drones used in recent attacks.

Oct. 19, 2022: The United States, Britain, and France raised Iran’s drone exports at the U.N. Security Council. “As Iran continues to lie and deny providing weapons to Russia for use in Ukraine, we are committed to working with allies and partners to prevent the transfer of dangerous weaponry to Russia,” said State Department Spokesperson Ned Price. “We will not hesitate to use our sanctions and other appropriate tools on all involved in these transfers. We will also continue to surge unprecedented security assistance to Ukraine, including air defense capabilities, so that Ukraine can defend itself from these weapons.”

Oct. 20, 2022: The European Union and Britain sanctioned Iran for supplying drones to Russia. The sanctions designated three generals and the manufacturer of Shahed-136 drones.

A Mohajer-6 reconnaissance and strike drone

Oct. 21, 2022: Ukrainian intelligence reported that a Mohajer-6, which was shot down over the Black Sea in September, had components from the United States, Japan, Austria, and China.  In November, the Conflict Armament Research group identified more than 500 different components produced by 70 manufacturers in 13 countries. “About 82 percent of these components were made in the U.S.,” it claimed.

Oct. 21, 2022: Ukraine announced that it had killed ten Iranian trainers in two separate strikes. 

Oct. 23, 2022: Ukraine claimed that it routinely shot down the majority of Shahed-136 drones fired by Russia.

Nov. 5, 2022: Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian admitted that Iran had supplied drones to Russia. But he claimed that they had been delivered to Russia months before the war began.

Nov. 5, 2022: President Volodymyr Zelensky claimed that Ukraine was shooting down at least 10 Iranian drones daily.

Nov. 9, 2022: Iran and Russia reportedly signed a deal to manufacture drones in Russia. President Raisi said that Iran and Russia were upgrading bilateral relations to counter U.S. sanctions on both countries. Head of the Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani said that Iran was willing to negotiate an end to the war.  “Iran welcomes and supports any initiative that would lead to a ceasefire and peace between Russia and Ukraine.”

Nov. 15, 2022: The State Department sanctioned Russia’s Wagner Group, the IRGC Aerospace Force, and an Iranian company for facilitating the transfer of Iranian drones to Russia. The U.S. Treasury sanctioned two Russian men and three Iranian companies. “This is part of our larger effort to disrupt Russia’s war effort and deny the equipment it needs through sanctions and export controls,” said Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

Dec. 9, 2022: Iran had become Russia’s “top military backer,” John Kirby of the National Security Council claimed. “In exchange, Russia is offering Iran an unprecedented level of military and technical support.” Moscow may also plan to provide Tehran with helicopters and air defense systems “within the next year.” Iranian pilots reportedly started training in Russia to fly the Sukhoi Su-35, an advanced fighter jet, in the spring of 2022.

Dec. 10, 2022: Russia fired Iranian drones at power stations near Odessa, leaving 1.5 million people without electricity.

Dec. 14, 2022: Ukraine shot down all 13 Shahed drones fired on Kyiv. Russia

Dec. 19, 2022: Ukraine claimed that Russia received a new shipment of Shahed-136 drones.

Dec. 24, 2022: Ukraine claimed that Iran had provided 1,700 Shahed drones to Russia.

Dec. 29, 2022: Russia fired sixteen Shahed drones, including seven on Kyiv. Ukraine shot them all down.

Jan. 1, 2023: Ukraine shot down 45 Shahed drones targeting infrastructure in the Kyiv region. Other drones knocked out power and heating systems.

Jan. 4, 2023: The White House announced it was exploring new sanctions and export controls on Iranian drone production and exports.  

Jan. 6, 2023: The U.S. government issued new sanctions on the Iranian government and aerospace companies.

Feb. 5, 2023: Tehran and Moscow reportedly planned to build a factory in Russia to produce some 6,000 drones.

May 9, 2023: The United States revealed that Iran was supporting Russian efforts to build a drone factory hundreds of miles east of Moscow. The factory could start producing drones in 2024, according to John Kirby of the National Security Council. Tehran was reportedly providing materials for the facility, which would enable Russia to manufacture its own drone supply rather than importing drones from Iran via the Caspian Sea. The Islamic Republic sought fighter jets, attack helicopters, air defense systems, military radars, and other equipment, worth “billions of dollars,” from Russia, Kirby said. “This is a full-scale defense partnership that is harmful to Ukraine, to Iran’s neighbors and to the international community.”

July 6, 2023: Russia had started producing reconnaissance drones at an Iran-supported facility in Tatarstan province, the Financial Times reported. A Russian agricultural technology company called Albatross manufactured some 50 drones for the war in Ukraine. The organization reportedly operated in Yelabuga—in mid-2023, the White House claimed that the site could host an operational Iran-Russia drone plant by early 2024.

July 2023: Sarmad Electronics Sepahan, an Iranian company, had copied two Japanese parts for use in suicide drones provided to Russia for the war against Ukraine, Conflict Armament Research reported. “As sanctions clamp down on foreign supplies, they certainly feel the need to produce as much domestically as they can,” Damien Spleeters, the group’s deputy director of operations, told The Wall Street Journal. Spleeters had examined remains of Iranian drones downed over Ukraine. 

July 21, 2023: The UAV manufacturing plant that Russia was building in Yelabuga could enable Russia to amass a drone stockpile “orders of magnitude larger” than Tehran’s unmanned vehicle exports to Moscow, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) told CNN and other outlets. By late July 2023, Iran had sent at least 400 Shahed and Mohajer series drones to Russia, the DIA added. It also warned that the Islamic Republic could begin exporting smaller Shahed-101 series drones for the war in Ukraine. In return, Iran received funding and backing from Russia for its space and missile programs. It was also able to demonstrate the effectiveness of Iranian weapons to potential customers.

Aug. 10, 2023: Russia had begun deploying copies of Iranian suicide drones in Ukraine as early as July 2023, according to the Conflict Armament Research group. The Geran-2 drone was a Russian copy of the Shahed-136. Many of the components in the models were from Chinese, Swiss, and American companies.  


Photo Credits: Shahed-129 by Fars News Agency (CC BY 4.0); Shahed-136 drones via IMA Media; Mohajer-6 via Mehr News Agency (CC BY 4.0)
Some of the information in this article was originally published on March 1, 2023.