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New payload seen on Iranian Shahed-129 UAV

A Shahed-129 UAV with a previously unseen payload at the IRGC Qeshm island airbase. (IRNA)

At least one of the Shahed-129 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) operated by Iran's Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) has been fitted with a previously unseen sensor, prompting speculation that it is a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) that could significantly improve the force's situational awareness.

The UAV was seen with a new dome mounted midway along the underside of its fuselage in photographs published by the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) on 11 March to show students visiting various IRGC facilities, including an airbase that could be identified as the one on Qeshm island.

While the dome could house electronic/signals intelligence antennas, it was about the right size to accommodate the antenna of the SAR displayed next to a Shahed-129 at the IRGC Aerospace Force museum in Tehran since it opened in 2019.

This looked different from the one displayed as the Absar SAR at the Kish air show in November 2016, which was gimbaled like an electro-optical system. While Iranian observers presumed this was an indigenous development, the radar looked heavily used, suggesting it may have been recovered from a foreign aircraft that crashed.

The Shahed-129 seen flying from Qeshm island was also fitted with an electro-optical system under its nose but not with hardpoints for carrying weapons.

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