Shahed-branded drones were recently discovered to contain a collection of parts made almost exclusively in the United States, raising questions on how to restrict U.S. companies’ contributions to the war between Russia and Ukraine.
Iranian-made drones commanded by the Russian military have been slamming vulnerable Ukrainian cities with “kamikaze” attacks, with officials reporting over 80 drones shot down over Ukraine in the first two days of the new year.
During a nationwide address on Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy expressed concern regarding continued drone attacks by Russia. “We have information that Russia is planning a long-term attack using Shahed drones,” Zelenskyy said. “It is probably banking on exhaustion. Exhausting our people, our anti-aircraft defenses, our energy,” he said.
Despite the United States pledging full support to Ukraine by sending nearly $50 billion in military and humanitarian aid, American companies are manufacturing nearly every component of Iranian drones. According to a Ukrainian intelligence assessment, 40 of the 52 parts recovered from a downed Iranian Shahed-136 drone were made in the United States. These 40 parts were created by 13 American companies, with the remaining 12 components manufactured by companies in Canada, Switzerland, Japan, Taiwan, and China.
The discovery highlights the challenge facing the Biden administration, which has vowed to stop Iran’s production of drones.
Last month, the Biden administration opened a task force to investigate the path of western technology flowing into Iran. In several drones, processors from Dallas-based company Texas Instruments (TI) were found by Ukrainian Armed Forces. The company stated that they condemn any use of their products in military applications against Ukraine. “TI is not selling any products into Russia, Belarus or Iran,” the company said, adding that they comply with any regulations present.
For years, the U.S. has pressed sanctions on products exported to Iran to combat any military outfitting, yet as evidenced by recent drone recoveries, there has been a lack of enforcement. In many cases, Iran is able to modify seemingly innocent items to fit military needs, such as using TI processors to control drones. “We are looking at ways to target Iranian UAV production through sanctions, export controls, and talking to private companies whose parts have been used in the production. We are assessing further steps we can take in terms of export controls to restrict Iran’s access to technologies used in drones,” stated National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson.
For now, there is no evidence that the companies found responsible for parts in recovered Iranian drones were knowingly selling products to Iran for military use.