DRONESWestern Tech in Iranian Drones Is Helping Russia in Ukraine

By Natalie Sedletska, Maksym Savchuk, Kyrylo Ovsyaniy, and Carl Schreck

Published 5 November 2022

Iran boasts that its advanced Mohajer-6 combat drone, now used effectively by the Russian forces in Ukraine, is an example of Iran’s “indigenous” ingenuity. But the core electronic components of the Mohajer-6 contain parts produced by companies from the United States and the European Union.

Over the past five years, Iranian officials and state media have touted the “indigenous” ingenuity in the Islamic republic’s mass-produced Mohajer-6 combat drone, which Russia has deployed in its war against Ukraine.

But a new investigation by Schemes, the investigative unit of RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, has found that electronic components underpinning Tehran’s production of the Mohajer-6 are far from homegrown.

The Mohajer-6 drones contain components produced by companies from the United States and the European Union, both of which have sanctions restricting the export to Iran of such technology that can be used for both civilian and military purposes – dual-use technology.

The presence of these components in the Mohajer-6 does not mean their producers are in violation of U.S. or EU sanctions, and RFE/RL does not have evidence that this is the case.

The investigation also found Mohajer-6 components produced in China, including a real-time mini-camera made by a Hong Kong firm that said it was “very sorry” that its products were being used in war.

At least one major foreign-produced component of the Mohajer-6 has previously been identified by reporters in a Mohajer-6 recovered from the battlefield by the Ukrainian military: an engine made by the Austrian manufacturer BRP-Rotax GmbH & Co KG, a subsidiary of the Canadian company Bombardier Recreational Products.

But Ukrainian intelligence assesses that the Iranian combat drone contains components from nearly three dozen different technology companies based in North America, the EU, Japan, and Taiwan, the Schemes investigation has found. A majority of these companies are based in the United States.

A Schemes reporter who personally inspected the foreign-made drone parts identified components produced by at least 15 of these manufacturers.

These include parts made by the U.S. technology firm Texas Instruments, which said in a statement that it does not sell into Russia or Iran and complies with applicable laws and regulations.

To identify these components, Schemes reporters examined parts of the Mohajer-6 drone that the Ukrainian military shot down over the Black Sea near the Mykolayiv region coastal town of Ochakiv. They also reviewed Ukrainian intelligence records on the sources of these components.

The drone also contains a microchip bearing the logo of a California technology company and a thermal-imaging camera that Ukrainian intelligence says may have been produced by a firm based in Oregon or China.