Jet-engine (top) and propeller (bottom) variants of Iran‘s flying-wing UAV on launch vehicles at an airbase on Qeshm island during an exercise in 2019. While Iranian sources have identified these as the Shahed-191 and Shahed-181 respectively, the IDF says it intercepted a previously unknown type with a similar wingspan, called the Shahed-197. (IMA Media)
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have identified two unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that it intercepted a year ago as a previously unknown Iranian type called the Shahed-197.
In a briefing on 7 March, senior military sources said the two UAVs approached Israeli airspace from the south and east in a previously unreported incident on 15 March 2021, without saying where they were launched from.
The Israeli Air Force also released a statement saying four F-35I Adir fifth-generation fighters were scrambled (two from 116Squadron and two from 140 Squadron), with one pair crossing into a neighbouring country to identify and then shoot down the UAVs, making this the first time anF-35has shot down a hostile aircraft.
”We received the initial information from the regional control unit and were able to identify and classify the targets with our radar systems and eventually shoot them down,” it quoted the deputy commander of 116 Squadron as saying.
In a separate statement, the IDF said the UAVs were “intercepted in regional airspace in co-ordination with neighbouring countries before they could enter Israeli skies”.
The wreckage of the UAVs was recovered, enabling them to be identified as Shahed-197s that were carrying handguns that are presumed to have been destined for militants in the Palestinian territories. Senior military sources said the smuggling flights were assessed to be an Iranian probe of Israel's ability to defend against UAVs.