Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rattled a new saber this week, his country's first domestically built unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV, a.k.a. "drone"), the Karrar (Farsi for "striker"). Ahmadinejad dubbed it the "Ambassador of Death."
Depending on the mission, according to the Iranian Defense Ministry, the 13-foot-long, remotely-piloted aircraft can deliver either a pair of 250-pound bombs, a single 450-pound laser-guided bomb, or a quartet of cruise missiles. The UAV travels 560 miles per hour with 620-mile range. It should be noted that past Iranian defense claims have made fish stories seem reliable, and, among other red flags waving today, cruise missile capability would extend the Ambassador of Death's range well past 620 miles. But taking the specs at face value, here's how Ahmadinejad's new saber measures up:
The poster child of UAVs, the 27-foot-long Predator has a cruise speed of 84 mph and a range of 454 miles. Originally developed for reconnaissance by the U.S. Department of Defense in the mid-1990s, Predators were fitted with a pair of Hellfire missiles after an American general remarked, "I can see the tank. Now I'd like to see it blown up."
When that worked, the Department of Defense commenced development of the Reaper UAV. In operation since 2006, the 36-foot-long Reaper boasts a cruise speed of around 230 mph, a 3,682-mile range, and a relative arsenal including Hellfires, Sidewinder missiles and 500-pound laser-guided bombs--a potent enough package overall that the Air Force subsequently decided to train more pilots to fly aircraft from ground operations centers than from cockpits.
Two years later, Israel unveiled the Heron UAV, 43 feet long with a wingspan of 85 feet, or about that of a Boeing 737. Its range is 5,000 miles--or deep into Iran and back twice. The Karrar's stated range would leave it nearly 500 miles shy of Israel. The Heron's weapons payload, meanwhile, can be 4,000 pounds, or about eight times that of Iran's new aircraft.
This April brought the introduction of a jet-powered version of the Predator, the Avenger, with a top speed of close to 500 mph and, more importantly, a good deal of infrared and radar-proof stealth design--without stealth, the Ambassador of Death may find itself the jet-powered version of a sitting duck.
James Jewell, President of UAV MarketSpace and one of America's top unmanned aerial systems experts, speculated that Iran's new offering is "nothing special," adding of the Iranian announcement, "I suspect it has an element of hyperbole since it comes so close to the nuclear reactor fueling announcement."
Jewell also noted several other countries with UAV systems comparable or superior to Iran's, including France, Italy, and South Africa (for a fairly extensive international UAV roster, see Wikipedia's unmanned aerial vehicle page).
The Ambassador of Death, however, has the scariest name.