Friday , 22 September 2023

UK MPs alarmed by report on British colleges helping Iran develop drones

Al-Monitor — Senior UK politicians have expressed concern after an expose on Thursday revealed that several British universities are helping Iran’s government develop technology that can be used in its drones and fighter jets. 

At least 11 UK universities, including Cambridge University, Imperial College London and aerospace specialist college Cranfield University, worked on Iran-related projects, with staff producing at least 16 studies with potential Iranian military applications, The Jewish Chronicle found in its investigation. 

Britain bans the export of “dual use” and military technology to Iran, and recently imposed sanctions against Iranian individuals and entities supplying Russia with kamikaze suicide drones being used by Russia in its war against Ukraine. Dual-use technology can be used by both civilians and the military. British parliament members demand to know how the research was carried out despite the government’s sanctions on Iran

The Jewish Chronicle investigation revealed that one of the project researchers in the UK worked to improve drone engines, boosting their altitude, speed and range. That research was funded by the Iranian government. 

Another British college worked with Iranian researchers to test new control systems for jet engines, designed to improve their “maneuverability and response time” in “military applications.” 

The report also revealed that other UK-based researchers had worked with Iran to research the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in communications systems, as well as special material and coating for military aircraft.  

A British government spokesperson told Al-Monitor in an emailed statement: “We will not accept collaborations which compromise our national security. We have made our systems more robust and expanded the scope of the Academic Technology Approval Scheme to protect UK research from ever-changing global threats, and refuse applications where we have concerns.”

The spokesperson did not reply after being asked whether the government planned to probe whether sanctions had been breached by the universities. 

UK Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy said the results of the investigation were “deeply troubling” and urged the government to urgently investigate whether sanctions had been breached.

Former Conservative minister David Davis accused the government of not reliably enforcing sanctions. “There is little point in having a sanctions regime unless the relevant government departments monitor and enforce it properly,” Davis said. “It should not be possible for researchers at British universities to effectively assist the Iranian state in enhancing its weapons systems which may be deployed against our allies or even our own soldiers.”

Alicia Kearns, chair of the Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, called the revelations “a horrifying collaboration” that she fears could breach sanctions. 

The powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) controls Iran’s drone and missile arsenal, but unlike the United States, the UK has not designated the group a terrorist organization. 

Lord Baron Stuart Polak, president of Conservative Friends of Israel, said, “It’s clear that the IRGC controls Iran’s drone programs and that these weapons are being used by the Russians in Putin’s war on Ukraine.”

Polak added, “That it has a presence in British universities is yet more evidence — not that any should be needed — that we should have banned the IRGC a long time ago.”

One example of the research uncovered by the investigation was jointly produced by Imperial College scientist Ahmad Najjaran Kheirabadi and researchers from Shahrood University of Technology and Ferdowsi University of Mashhad. The research looked at upgrading engines used to power drones, including the Shahed 136 — the infamous Iran-made “suicide drone” deployed by Russia in Ukraine. That research, published in March 2019, was “supported by” Iran’s Ministry of Science, Research and Technology, whose former minister Kamran Daneshjoo and current deputy minister Mohammad Nouri are both sanctioned by Britain.

In statements to The Jewish Chronicle, the universities said they review their security policies and processes on a continuous basis to ensure they comply with legal obligations.