Iranian schoolchildren will be taught how to hunt and down “alien drones” when they return to classes next month.
Announcing the exciting if bizarre new addition to the curriculum, a senior commander of the powerful Basij militia said 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,” Brigadier General Ali Fazli said at the weekend in remarks carried by the Fars news agency, which is affiliated to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. A section on tracking and downing unmanned aircraft would be added to high school textbooks.
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 trespassed into its airspace during the past two years and fired on another in a tense incident shortly before the last US presidential election.
General Fazli gave no details of how the lessons would be taught, but presumably they will include time spent on computers doing game-like simulations.
In December 2011 Iran captured a sophisticated US 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 and would reverse-engineer its technology to mass-produce a superior version. Washington said the drone had malfunctioned and was forced to land.
Iran, immensely proud of its scientific and technological prowess, boasts it has developed its own fleet of home-made drones, three of which were displayed at a chest-thumping military parade in April.
Most aviation experts found them underwhelming.
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?” Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born lecturer at the Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzliya in Israel, said.
“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, are also “trying to make life as hard as possible” for Iran’s moderate new president, Hassan Rowhani, who has pledged to pursue “serious” talks with the West to ease tensions over Tehran’s disputed nuclear programme.
On Saturday, Mr Rowhani 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 have few enemy drones to practice come the new school year. A senior air force commander boasted this weekend that the vigilance of Iran’s border forces had scared alien UAVs from entering Iranian airspace.