Image: Wikimedia Commons / Tasnim News Agency

UK academics collaborate on drone research with Iranian university

Academics at three Western universities collaborated with an Iranian university linked to the country’s military to develop drone technology, an investigation has revealed.

Researchers from the UK’s University of Southampton, Australia’s University of New South Wales, and the US’s University of Houston worked alongside the Sharif University of Technology, an institution subject to financial sanctions from Britain and the EU.

It is not a good idea for any university to engage in these projects

Prof. Robert Czulda, Associate Professor at University of Łódź

The university, based in Tehran, has been closely linked with Iran’s military drone program according to the Washington Institute, an American think tank that specialises in Middle East-related topics.

In a research paper uncovered by the United Against Nuclear Iran organisation (UANI), the project studied the use of drones, known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), in wireless networks and their viability as communications hubs.

Security experts have claimed this research has “direct implications” for military use, notably for re-establishing communications to circumvent the use of jamming technology.

Prof. Robert Czulda, an Associate Professor in International and Political Studies at the University of Łódź, told the Guardian that the project was potentially “very dangerous”.

He said: “It is not a good idea for any university to engage in these projects. Any system relating to communications or repeating signals could easily have military application.”

This is not the first time a British institution has come under fire for cooperation with Iran.

In an incident in June 2023, scientists at 11 UK universities were accused of working with Iran on research to enhance the altitude, range, and speed of UAVs.

We will not accept collaborations that compromise our national security

Rishi Sunak, Prime Minister

It led to the opening of a government inquiry into potential breaches of the export controls that the UK has imposed on Iran. At the time, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “We will not accept collaborations that compromise our national security.”

Governments have warned that Iran has sought international academic collaboration as a means of furthering its military UAV program.

UANI Research Director, Daniel Roth, cautioned: “Iranian universities don’t operate under the same principles of academic independence that we understand. They’re ultimately directed by the regime when it comes to specific areas of research.”

In recent years, Iranian suicide drones have become synonymous with modern war, seeing extensive use by Russian forces in their invasion of Ukraine and by the Houthis in recent attacks on Red Sea shipping.

In January, an Iranian-made drone was used to attack a US airbase in Jordan, killing three American servicepeople and severely escalating tensions in the region.

In a statement, the University of Southampton said it had “stopped all formal and informal research collaborations with Iran” since the research’s publication.


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