Iran unveiled that it launched a massive drone exercise to showcase its military and technological prowess on Thursday. Given that it involves some 50 Iranian-made drones and is officially named "Way to Jerusalem" exercises (or "Towards al-Quds 1"), it has been met with alarm in Israel especially considering many were armed drones operating along key choke points in the Persian Gulf.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) described the military drills as Iran's largest exercise of its kind to date, and occurred mostly near the strategic Strait of Hormuz. State-run Fars and Tasnim news agencies described the operation as including, “for the first time, 50 Iranian drones on the RQ-170 [US Sentinel] model operated with a number of assault and combat drones."
According to Iranian defense officials, including IRGC Ground Force commander Maj.-Gen. Golam Ali Rashid, who helped command the operation, the drone "offensive operation" saw UAVs operate simultaneously at distances of more than 1,000 km away from each other (about 620 miles) and struck remote targets with “high precision.”
Gen. Rashid told state sources that contrary to the western perception that the Iranian Republic is failing in technological advancement, instead “today we are witnessing the strongest maneuvers of the IRGC’s Aerospace Forces.” He bragged that enemies would be “humiliated and feel shame,” according to state media.
And the IRGC’s second-in-command, Brigadier General Hossein Salami, said ironically while commenting on the massive drone exercises that US “sanctions bore fruit.”
He said, “Despite the empty and satanic dreams of the US and other ill-wishers of the Iranian nation, we witnessed tens of modern and advanced domestic RQ-170s and other types of combat drones in flight during a major drill and unique offensive operation.”
The drills were reportedly conducted across several provinces of Iran, but mostly concentrated on simulations close to the Strait of Hormuz, a key international oil shipping choke point in the Persian Gulf which the IRGC has long threatened to block.
In addition, Iran touted successful battlefield tests of a drone it "reverse-engineered" based on an American UAV used by the US military and CIA. According to the AP:
Iran in 2014 reverse-engineered a Lockheed Martin RQ-170 drone it captured three years earlier, producing a domestic version of the RQ-170, modified to carry out both bombing and reconnaissance missions.
Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh of the Guard's aerospace division further described that Iran possesses "the region's biggest offensive drone fleet."
Iran's IRGC leaders last month touted that Iran is among the world’s top five powers capable of building combat drones, and also emphasized that "sanctions have had no impact" on this key defense sector.