Iran Watch Newsletter: June 2021

June 29, 2021

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  • Newsletters

This month’s newsletter features testimony by Valerie Lincy, the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, on China’s role in the proliferation of missile and nuclear technologies. The testimony explores contributions from entities in China to Iran’s nuclear program and development of ballistic missiles.

The newsletter also features a profile of the Iranian military’s defense production organization for aircraft and drones, as well as profiles of two aviation companies linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). In addition, the newsletter includes documents from the Iran Watch library related to the the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)’s board of governors meeting, some U.S. measures that have eased financial pressure on Iran, and reported incidents at nuclear facilities in Bushehr and Karaj, as well as news about Iran’s efforts to equip Iraqi militias with drones, its planned purchase of a surveillance satellite from Russia, and Iran’s recent failed attempt to launch a satellite of its own.

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Testimony | Hearing on “China’s Nuclear Forces

On June 10th, Valerie Lincy, the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, testified before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission to discuss China’s role in the proliferation of missile and nuclear technologies around the world. Her testimony summarized the contribution of Chinese entities to Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, including support for uranium mines and transfers of controlled items to Iranian missile producers, and offered insight into the nature of ongoing Chinese support to those programs, with a focus on the shifting roles of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and private actors.

Read the full testimony here.



State-owned entities subordinate to the Iranian Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL) and ostensibly private companies controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) produce and maintain Iran’s fleet of aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). These firms and their subsidiaries have also played a role in supporting Iran’s proxies overseas.

Iran Aviation Industries Organization (IAIO)

A subsidiary of MODAFL; involved in developing light aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs); reportedly manufactured Shahed-278 and Shahed-285 military helicopters for the IRGC Ground Forces; reportedly manufactures the Hemase reconnaissance UAV, the Kosar fighter and training jet, the Qaher 313 stealth fighter jet, and the Yasin training jet.

Pars Aviation Services Company (PASC)

An Iranian aircraft supply and repair company that the U.N. Security Council has identified as an entity affiliated with the IRGC; reportedly owned by Bonyad Taavon Sepah on behalf of the IRGC Aerospace Force (IRGC-AF); clients have included the IRGC-AF and the IRGC Navy; has reportedly maintained the IRGC-AF’s fleet of transport and combat aircraft.

Pouya Air (Yas Air)

An Iranian cargo airline that has been owned by PASC; according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, has transported illicit cargo to Iranian proxies in the Levant on behalf of the IRGC Quds Force (IRGC-QF); according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, has transported IRGC-QF personnel and weapons disguised as humanitarian aid.



Iran’s Proxies in Iraq Threaten U.S. with More Sophisticated Weapons | The New York Times

June 4: Unnamed U.S. officials allege that Iranian-backed militias in Iraq have used dive-bombing drones to launch at least three attacks against Iraqi military bases used by the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. Special Operations Forces in the last two months. The episodes included an April 14 strike on a covert CIA hangar at an airport in Erbil, a May 8 attack on the Ayn al-Asad air base in Anbar Province, and a May 11 strike on an airfield in Harir used by U.S. special forces. Analysis of the drones' debris indicated that they could carry 10-60 pounds of explosives and that they used technology similar to that provided by Iran to Houthi rebels in Yemen. The attacks went unclaimed and caused no injuries; according to Iraqi and U.S. officials, Iran engineered the operations to minimize casualties. The drones flew low enough to evade U.S. defenses designed to counter artillery, mortars, and rockets. U.S. analysts have speculated that the militias were targeting U.S. facilities housing surveillance aircraft and U.S. MQ-9 Reaper combat drones.

Russia Is Preparing to Supply Iran with an Advanced Satellite System That Will Boost Tehran's Ability to Surveil Military Targets, Officials Say | The Washington Post

June 10: Unnamed current and former Middle Eastern and U.S. officials allege that Russia is taking steps to sell the Kanopus-V spy satellite to Iran. The officials said that the Kanopus-V could be launched from Russia within months and that its high-resolution camera would enable Iran to continuously surveil sites such as military sites in Israel, oil refineries in the Persian Gulf, and bases used by U.S. soldiers in Iraq. The officials added that leaders from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) traveled to Russia several times since 2018 to negotiate Iran's acquisition of the spy satellite and that Russian specialists made a trip to Iran to train Iranian ground crews to operate the satellite from a new facility in Karaj. According to a Middle Eastern official, Iran can use the Kanopus-V to maintain "an accurate target bank" for potential missile and drone strikes. Last year, Iran launched its own, allegedly less-capable Noor-1 military satellite following earlier failures.

Pentagon Tracked Failed Iranian Satellite Launch and New Images Reveal Tehran Is Set to Try Again | CNN

June 23: According to U.S. defense officials, the U.S. Defense Department monitored a failed attempt by Iran to launch a satellite on June 12. The officials said that they had yet to determine why and at what stage the launch failed. Analysts concluded that Iran likely used a two-stage Simorgh space launch vehicle, which employs engines based on North Korean designs. Meanwhile, commercial satellite images taken on June 20 show indications that Iran is making preparations for a second launch. Some analysts believe that Iran can repurpose technology from its space program for use in the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles.



In early June, the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) convened in Vienna for its quarterly meeting. Discussions focused on unresolved questions about several nuclear sites that Iran failed to declare to the IAEA, as well as Iran’s ongoing violations of the nuclear limitations contained in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Discussions to facilitate Iran and the United States’ return to compliance with the JCPOA continue in Vienna. At the same time, the United States has taken some steps that have eased financial pressure on Iran. The European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have supported the ongoing diplomacy.

Iran has reported incidents at nuclear sites in Bushehr and Karaj. These follow two sabotage attacks on Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility and the assassination of the country’s top nuclear scientist, which took place over the last year.