Iranian suicide drone used by Russia in Ukraine hit oil tanker at sea: Navy

  • An Iranian-made suicide drone rammed a commercial tanker in the Arabian Sea last week.
  • The US Navy has identified the drone as a Shahed-136, which Russia uses to attack Ukrainian cities.
  • A navy official said the Iranian attack on the ship was “deliberate, flagrant and dangerous”.

The US Navy says an Iranian-made suicide drone of the same type that Russia launched at Ukrainian cities was used in a recent attack on a commercial tanker in the Middle East.

Last week, an explosive-laden drone hit a Liberian-flagged vessel transiting the northern Arabian Sea, the US Navy said in a statement on Tuesday. The US 5th Fleet collected evidence of the incident and sent it to a lab where technicians confirmed the drone was an Iranian-made Shahed-136, a weapon used for months in Ukraine.

“Iran’s attack on a commercial tanker transiting international waters was deliberate, flagrant and dangerous, endangering the lives of the ship’s crew and destabilizing maritime security in the Middle East,” Vice Admiral Brad said. Cooper, commander of the United States Navy. Forces Central Command, U.S. 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces.

The tanker, Pacific Zircon, was attacked on the evening of 15 November. The U.S. Navy said a drone ripped through the stern of the ship, caused a 30-inch-wide hole and exploded, damaging the ship’s potable water tank, boiler and life raft.

The next day, U.S. Navy explosive ordnance disposal technicians boarded the injured tanker to pick up the wreckage and inspect the damage. That evidence was then sent for further analysis at a lab in Bahrain, where Iran’s connection to the incident was determined, the navy said.

Image taken on November 20 shows fragments of debris from an Iranian-made Shahed-136 unmanned aerial vehicle collected as evidence by a U.S. Navy explosive ordnance disposal team aboard the M/T Pacific Zircon, the November 16.

Image taken on November 20 shows fragments of debris from an Iranian-made Shahed-136 unmanned aerial vehicle collected as evidence by a U.S. Navy explosive ordnance disposal team aboard the M/T Pacific Zircon, the November 16.

US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Mark Thomas Mahmod



Graphic illustration and images captured by a US Navy explosive ordnance disposal team aboard the M/T Pacific Zircon on November 16 showing the location where an Iranian-made unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) penetrated in the outer hull of the M/T Pacific Zircon during an attack Nov. 15. The one-way UAV attack blew a 30-inch-wide hole in the outer hull on the starboard side of the ship's stern, just in below the main deck.

Graphic illustration and images captured by a US Navy explosive ordnance disposal team aboard the M/T Pacific Zircon on November 16 showing the location where an Iranian-made unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) penetrated in the outer hull of the M/T Pacific Zircon during an attack Nov. 15. The one-way UAV attack blew a 30-inch-wide hole in the outer hull on the starboard side of the ship’s stern, just in below the main deck.

United States Navy Graphic



Footage captured by a U.S. Navy explosive ordnance disposal team aboard the M/T Pacific Zircon on November 16 shows damage on board caused by a one-way unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) attack the day before .  An attached explosive detonated during the attack, causing an explosion which led to UAV fragments subsequently entering internal compartments and damaging an onboard boiler and potable water tank.  A life raft stored outside the vessel also suffered minor damage from the explosion.

Footage captured by a U.S. Navy explosive ordnance disposal team aboard the M/T Pacific Zircon on November 16 shows damage on board caused by a one-way unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) attack the day before . An attached explosive detonated during the attack, causing an explosion which led to UAV fragments subsequently entering internal compartments and damaging an onboard boiler and potable water tank. A life raft stored outside the vessel also suffered minor damage from the explosion.

United States Navy Graphic



“The aerial drone that struck the commercial tanker has been identified as a Shahed-136 UAV, fitting a historical pattern of Iran’s increasing use of lethal capability directly or through its proxies across the world. Middle East,” the Navy said. The maritime service added that Iran had provided drone technology to Houthi rebels fighting the internationally recognized government of Yemen. Additionally, these drones have been used in Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

Although it’s called a drone, Iran’s Shahed-136 is actually technically a trailing munition. These small, long-range systems are packed with explosives and can fly like a normal drone and are able to linger over a target area.

But once that ordnance is in place, it can be aimed at specific targets, then fly directly at them and explode on impact. For this reason, the Shahed-136 is often referred to as a suicide or kamikaze drone. The British Ministry of Defense has share that 440-pound weapons are relatively slow and carry a small explosive payload.

In recent weeks, these weapons have come under the spotlight for their role in Russia’s nine-month war in Ukraine.

Russian forces have used the systems in deadly attacks on Ukrainian cities, often targeting civilian infrastructure hundreds of miles from the frontlines of the war. Senior US officials said Russian officials had previously visited Iran to learn how to use the drones, which would then be used in attacks, before Iranian military personnel more recently traveled to Crimea to help Moscow make operate the weapons.

Meanwhile, last week’s Shahed-136 attack is the second time this month that US Navy forces have reported Iranian influence in waters near the Middle East. Earlier in November, the service said it had recovered a “massive amount” of explosive material – used to power ballistic missiles – from a fishing boat that was sailing from Iran to Yemen.