Russia adds to weapon stockpile with purchase of lethal drones from Iran to attack Ukraine

WASHINGTON – Russia has bought lethal drones from Iran to attack Ukrainian troops, a move that underscores Russia’s dwindling stocks of precision weapons more than six months after its invasion, U.S. officials told USA TODAY. 

There are indications, however, that the Russians are not satisfied with the purchase because of the drones’ reliability, according to a senior administration official who talked about intelligence findings on condition of anonymity. 

This handout photo taken from video released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Aug. 8, 2022, shows a Russian serviceman preparing a Orlan-10 reconnaissance drone to launch at an undisclosed location.

The Biden administration is concerned that the drones will give the Russians a precision weapon to strike behind Ukrainian lines, the official said. The move from the Iranians comes as the Pentagon has been shipping weaponry to Ukraine that includes devices that can interfere with their navigation and shoot them down.

Iranian drones have been used to attack U.S. troops in Syria but defenses have rendered them mostly harmless, according a U.S. military official who was not authorized to speak publicly.

Iran has trained Russians to use the drones, said a second U.S. official familiar with intelligence estimates but not authorized to speak publicly. Russia’s reliance on Iran for advanced arms shows that Russia is running low on precision-guided weapons and is having difficulty replenishing its stocks, the official said. 

Iran’s unmanned warplanes have a spotty record of reliability, the official said. But when the drones work as designed, they can be devastating, the official said.