Iranian Drone Downed in Ukraine Shows Rapid Supply Chain from China to Russia

by Carolyn Mathas

An Iranian drone recently downed in Ukraine contained a Chinese component, indicating a swift and ongoing supply of drone parts from China to Iran to Russia. The Chinese part was manufactured and sent to Russian forces within three months.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the presence of the part shows a continued supply from China to Iran, an ongoing supply of essential components for Iran’s drone program, despite US efforts to disrupt the global supply chain.

Investigators from Conflict Armament Research, a U.K.-based group monitoring global weapons supply chains, discovered that the drone contained a voltage converter believed to have been produced in China in mid-January 2023, showing how quickly Iran can construct and ship drones to Russia. This Chinese part was produced in January, shipped to Iran, integrated, and finally used against Ukraine by April.

Russia turned to Iran in 2022  to supplement its weapons supply for the war. The use of Iranian drones exemplifies a strengthening military collaboration between the countries.

According to the Ukrainian military, Russia deployed over 700 drones to target power plants, cities, and military targets, putting a strain on Ukraine’s air defenses. The White House reported last week that Iran recently sent hundreds of additional drones to Russia via ships across the Caspian Sea.

The discovery of the 2023 Chinese part demonstrates the challenges the US and its allies face in preventing the flow of parts from around the world to Iran’s drone factories. China and Hong Kong have traditionally served as distribution centers for Iran’s drone production. The Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, a Washington-based nonprofit, identified the growing involvement of Chinese companies assisting Iran.

The drone contained an Iranian-made engine produced by a company that has been repeatedly sanctioned by the US and its allies for its role in Iran’s drone program.

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