As the U.S. proxy-war with Russia via Ukraine drags on, a new report from CNN cites sources who say that U.S.- and NATO-provided weapons have been captured by Russia, which is sending them to Iran where they will be reverse engineered.
“Over the last year, U.S., NATO and other Western officials have seen several instances of Russian forces seizing smaller, shoulder-fired weapons equipment including Javelin anti-tank and Stinger anti-aircraft systems that Ukrainian forces have at times been forced to leave behind on the battlefield,” the sources told CNN.
“In many of those cases, Russia has then flown the equipment to Iran to dismantle and analyze, likely so the Iranian military can attempt to make their own version of the weapons, sources said. Russia believes that continuing to provide captured Western weapons to Iran will incentivize Tehran to maintain its support for Russia’s war in Ukraine,” the sources added.
U.S. officials told the news outlet they do not believe the issue is widespread, as the Ukranian military has regularly reported the losses of U.S.-provided weapons to the Pentagon.
This would not be the first time Iranian officials have worked to reverse-engineer American military technology.
In December 2011, a Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel drone crashed on the Iran-Pakistan border, where it was seized by Iranian forces and reverse engineered, allowing Iran to quickly produce its own version.
Other equipment copied by Iran after acquiring foreign technology includes Swedish speed boats, sniper rifles, tanks, rockets, and aircraft.
As the conflict in Ukraine has progressed, ties between Russia and Iran have grown closer. A 2022 report from Sky News cited an anonymous source who said that Moscow secretly transported €140m in cash along with U.S. and U.K. missiles for Iran to reverse engineer. In return, Russia was reportedly provided with drones.
Iran is also providing Russian forces with the infrastructure and training necessary to operate the drones during combat.
For the past few decades, most of Iran’s newer weaponry has been a copy of older gear used by the U.S., U.K., Russia, China, or North Korea.