U.S. and Allies Launch Sanctions on Iran’s Drone and Missile Industry

Iranian drone
U.S. image of an Iranian drone seen circling over a U.S. carrier earlier this year (US Navy)

Published Apr 25, 2024 5:41 PM by The Maritime Executive


The United States in a coordinated effort with the UK and Canada launched a new wave of sanctions targeting Iran’s drone and missile industries in response to the attack on Israel earlier in the month. The sweeping effort is targeting more than a dozen entities, individuals, and vessels used to support the manufacture and sale of Iran’s one-way attack drones and the tankers used to transport oil to China and elsewhere to finance the efforts.

At the core of the sanctions announced today was a single company which according to U.S. officials has an intricate web of companies around it to support the drone industry. Called Sahara Thunder, the U.S. said it is the main front company playing a key role in Iran’s design, development, manufacture, and sale of thousands of UAVs. They contend the company received a $1.75 billion contract supplying thousands of drones to Russia for the war in Ukraine.

“Iran’s Ministry of Defense continues to destabilize the region and world with its support to Russia’s war in Ukraine, unprecedented attack on Israel, and proliferation of UAVs and other dangerous military hardware to terrorist proxies,” said Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson. “The United States, in close coordination with our British and Canadian partners, will continue to use all means available to combat those who would finance Iran’s destabilizing activities.”

As with previous rounds of sanctions, the U.S. alleges oil is used to finance much of the activity and support the military. Most of the targets of today’s sanctions were smaller product tankers involved in the commodities trade. They included three vessels, Chem (10,280 dwt), K M A (24,000 dwt) and Conrad (10,000 dwt) all registered in the Cook Islands. Also, they targeted another product tanker, Dancy Dynamic (47,400 dwt) registered in Palau. They listed what they termed “a vast shipping network,” ranging from India to the UAE that was used to arrange the transfers.

They also listed a Suezmax tanker, that was reported to alternately using the names La Pearl and Elite to disguise itself. The 159,700 dwt tanker is registered in Tanzania and according to the U.S. received an oil cargo in a ship-to-ship transfer in mid-April in international waters near Singapore.

Among the companies and management being listed were port agents and other companies supporting the oil trade. The U.S. is also re-designating the Iranian cargo airline Pouya Air. They report the company is being used to transport cargoes including weapons to Iran’s proxies in the Middle East.

Other companies designated today include Bonyan Danesh Shargh which produces UAVs, quadcopters, engines, electronics, and digital parts. IRGC Aerospace Force they listed as being involved in Iranian ballistic missile research and development. They said this company manages Iran’s production of Shahed-series UAVs.

Much of the equipment being cited in the actions today was believed to have been used in the attack on Israel. The U.S. also reports Iran supplies materials to its proxies including the Houthi as well as the sales to Russia. It is the latest steps by the Biden Administration coordinated with U.S. allies aimed at disrupting Iran’s activities and punishing Iran for its aggression.