An unknown Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, possibly Iran’s Shahed-129 or a variant, appears to be operational in the skies over Damascus, according to several videos uploaded by Free Syrian Army sources.
FSA-affiliated sources posted footage of the UAV on April 10. The drone—roughly similar to America’s Predator UAV—was reportedly flying surveillance East Gouta, Damascus.
A freeze frame from the clearest video appears to show a UAV we’ve seen before—the Iranian-manufactured Shahed-129. Loosely based on foreign designs such as the Predator and Israel’s Hermes, the Shahed-129 sports a V-tail and a pusher propeller.
Iran revealed the Shahed-129 in September 2012. Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, claimed the drone had an endurance of 24 hours, a range of 2,000 kilometers and the ability to launch missiles.
However upon closer inspection of the FSA video, we see quite a few differences with the construction of the UAV, such as a retractable undercarriage, what appears to be an external antennae attached to the top of the fuselage and a bulging nose.
Much like Iran’s Yasir drone, which is also inspired by captured Western tech—in this case, the Boeing Scan Eagle—these differences reflect Iran’s ongoing experimentation with UAVs.
Compared with the Scan Eagle, the Yasir differed greatly in the final version, which dropped the winglets and added a twin boom configuration as well as two external antennae on the top of fuselage.
Now with the Shahed-129 or variant, it would appear Iran has accomplished something similar—progressively upgrading a flying robot that Tehran’s engineers originally modeled on foreign tech. It’s in this way that Iran is steadily becoming a leading drone user.
The question remains, however, what these differences will mean in terms of capabilities. Some have suggested that the bulging nose, similar to that on Iran’s other UAVs the Hamaseh and the Fotros, could include satellite communication gear, though at present that seems a big technological leap for Tehran.
Notably, the new drone was unarmed.