x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Iranian schoolchildren to have lessons on hunting 'alien drones'

Section on tracking unmanned spy planes added to textbooks in bizarre addition to the school curriculum. Michael Theodoulou reports

Iranian children will be taught how to hunt and take down "alien drones" when they return to school next month.

Announcing the exciting, if bizarre, new addition to the school curriculum, a leading commander of the Basij militia said that there would be changes to the content, teachers and duration of what he called lessons in "defensive preparedness".

"The hunting of spy drones … is an example of this change of content," Brig Gen Ali Fazli said at the weekend. A section on tracking and downing unmanned aircraft would be added to high school textbooks, he added.

The United States relies on drones to garner intelligence from Iran because it has few assets on the ground there.

Iran claims to have captured two US drones that intruded into its airspace during the past two years, and fired on another in a tense incident shortly before the US presidential election last year.

Gen Fazli gave no details of how the lessons would be taught, but presumably they will include time spent on computers running video game-style simulations.

In December 2011, Iran captured a sophisticated US CIA stealth drone that was reportedly monitoring its nuclear facilities.

A jubilant Iran claimed its Revolutionary Guards had brought down the RQ-170 Sentinel aircraft intact with a cyber-attack on its avionics systems and would reverse-engineer its technology to mass-produce a superior version.

Washington said the drone malfunctioned and was forced to land.

Iran, which is immensely proud of its scientific and technological prowess, boasts that it has developed its own fleet of home-made drones, three of which were displayed at a military parade in April.

Some Iran analysts doubt the new school lessons are aimed specifically at nurturing a new generation of cyber-warriors.

"How are the children going to down drones - with slingshots?" said Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born lecturer at the Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzliya, Israel.

"It's a propaganda exercise. The main goal isn't to teach children to bring down UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles], it will be how to brainwash them that America is Iran's eternal enemy and that peace with America will be detrimental to Iran."

Iranian hardliners, he added, were also "trying to make life as hard as possible" for Iran's moderate new president, Hassan Rouhani, who has pledged to pursue "serious" talks with the West to ease tensions over Tehran's disputed nuclear programme.

On Saturday, Mr Rouhani said one of the reasons he was elected was to change his country's foreign policy, and implied he would move away from the bombastic style of his hardline predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"Foreign policy is not carried out by repeating slogans," he said. "We are strongly going to defend our national interests but that has to be done appropriately, precisely and rationally."

Meanwhile, Iran's expectant children may not have many enemy drones to practice with come the new school year. An air force commander boasted this weekend that the vigilance of Iran's border forces had scared alien UAVs from entering Iranian airspace.

mtheodoulou@thenational.ae

twitter: For breaking news from the Gulf, the Middle East and around the globe follow The National World. Follow us