As we have reported earlier, Iran has released video footage and other details about a major exercise in and around the strategic Strait of Hormuz that involved various types of attacks on a mock U.S. Navy aircraft carrier.
Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard employed various air, sea, and ground-launched weapons against the faux flattop, including anti-ship ballistic missiles and a Bell 206 type helicopter modified to carry an anti-ship cruise missile. The country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps also claimed that its Nour satellite, which was launched earlier this year, had taken imagery of the drills from space.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said that the exercise, called Great Prophet 14, had entered its final phase on July 28, 2020.
The most interesting aspects about the latest iteration of the drills, are the drones that took part in it.
Apart from the already known Shahed-129, a Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAV that appears to be a hybrid of the Israeli Hermes 450 and the US MQ-1/9 Predator, what really stood out are the Shahed 181 and Shahed 191, developed from the RQ-170 captured by Iran in 2011.
The American stealthy UAV was either hijacked via GPS spoofing, as claimed by Iran or, most likely, crash-landed because of an unknown failure and later found by the IRGC.
Once they got their hands on the RQ-170, the Iranians immediately started to reverse-engineer the aircraft, creating a full-scale exact copy that they called Shahed 171 Simorgh (Phoenix), unveiled in 2014.
After that, the next to be developed were the two drones seen during this week’s exercise, the Shahed 181 and Shahed 191, both called also Saegheh-2, which are essentially the same aircraft except for the engine and weapons’ placement.
Like the S-161, both UAVs are smaller than the original RQ-170 copy. Some analysts suggest that the drones may be made of fiberglass.
The S-191 is powered by a micro turbojet engine which Iranian media claim is capable of pushing the UAV up to 300 km/h at 25000 ft, with an endurance of 4.5 hours and a combat radius of 450 km.
The UAV can mount an EO/IR (Electro-Optical/InfraRed) turret under the nose that however seemed to miss in the photos from the exercise (but a closer look still shows a panel for mounting the turret). According to the Iranian media, the drone can also carry a Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) turret instead of the EO/IR turret. It is interesting to note that both turrets have a heat sink that protrudes from the upper part of the fuselage, just in front of the engine’s air intake.
Instead of using a normal landing gear, the S-191 uses two retractable skids, but it also has a parachute to be used when a runway is not available. The takeoff is performed by using a rail installed in the back of a pickup truck, which then speed up on a runway until the UAV lifts off. Some earlier versions of the S-191 missed the two elevated fairings on the sides of the air intake.
The weapons are installed in two internal bays (which sometimes lack their doors, remaining open for the entire flight and thus nullifying the drone’s claimed “stealthiness”), each capable of holding a Sadid-342 guided glide bomb with fragmentation warhead, which is also extremely similar to the Sadid-1 anti-tank missile, so much so that often is difficult to discern one from the other in the photos (the same difficulties are also valid when identifying the S-171 and S-191 UAVs, with the only external differences being the size and the different landing gear). According to some analysts, the weapon could use “man in the loop” guidance.
The Shahed 181 is a variant of the S-191 propelled by a piston engine and with a different air intake design than the S-191 and missing fairings on the sides of the air intake. The retractable skids are replaced by four fixed skids, along with the weapon bays replaced by semi-recessed attaching points between the skids. Apart from these differences, the two airframes are identical.