The vulnerability of Iran’s nuclear facilities to drone strikes

Think tank: The Henry Jackson Society

Author(s): Dr. Bahram Ghiassee

January 19, 2022

This report from UK think tank the Henry Jackson Society looks at Iran’s nuclear programme and the vulnerability of Iran’s nuclear facilities to ‘drone’ strikes.

Nuclear security and nuclear proliferation are issues of major concern to the international community. In this context, this research report assesses Iran’s nuclear programme, and more specifically the vulnerability of Iran’s nuclear facilities to ‘drone’ strikes. Iran’s acquisition of the full spectrum of nuclear facilities, with dual-use civil and weapons applications, has alarmed a number of countries in the region, which have threatened to sabotage and strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities, to deter Iran from developing nuclear weapons. The report finds that a number of Iran’s above-ground nuclear facilities are highly vulnerable to aerial attacks, in particular drone strikes. Drones are difficult to detect, identify, and destroy by conventional air defence systems. The report also finds that ancillary facilities (utilities) which provide electricity, water, and air to the nuclear facilities are equally vulnerable to drone strikes. Disruptions to the operation of ancillary facilities would be detrimental to the normal functioning of nuclear facilities, in particular those built underground. The report provides a number of policy recommendations, advocating, inter alia, that major attacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities be prevented, as Iran may retaliate by directly attacking the critical infrastructure of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates (UAE). Damage to the UAE’s nuclear power plant could result in extensive release of radioactivity, disrupting the production and shipment of oil and gas. Iran may also attack Israel’s nuclear facilities through its proxy forces in the region. The report also advocates that diplomacy must prevail, to prevent escalation of hostilities in an already turbulent region; to prevent a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region; and to foster peace, security, and economic prosperity in the MENA region and beyond.