WASHINGTON — The Biden administration has launched a broad effort to halt Iran’s ability to produce and deliver drones to Russia for use in the war in Ukraine, an endeavor that has echoes of its yearslong program to cut off Tehran’s access to nuclear technology.
In interviews in the United States, Europe and the Middle East, a range of intelligence, military and national security officials have described an expanding U.S. program that aims to choke off Iran’s ability to manufacture the drones, make it harder for the Russians to launch the unmanned “kamikaze” aircraft and — if all else fails — to provide the Ukrainians with the defenses necessary to shoot them out of the sky.
U.S. forces are helping Ukraine’s military target the sites where the drones are being prepared for launch — a difficult task because the Russians are moving the launch sites around, from soccer fields to parking lots. And they are rushing in new technologies designed to give early warning of approaching drone swarms, to improve Ukraine’s chances of bringing them down, with everything from gunfire to missiles.
But all three approaches have run into deep challenges, and the drive to cut off critical parts for the drones is already proving as difficult as the decades-old drive to deprive Iran of the components needed to build the delicate centrifuges it uses to enrich near-bomb-grade uranium.
The administration’s scramble to deal with the Iranian-supplied drones comes as Ukraine is using its own drones to strike deep into Russia, including an attack this week on a base housing some of the country’s strategic bombers. And it comes as officials in Washington and London warn that Iran may be about to provide Russia with missiles, helping alleviate Moscow’s acute shortage.