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MPs Concerned Over UK Universities’ Alleged Role in Developing Iranian ‘Suicide Drones’

MPs have raised “serious concerns” after a report said British universities have worked with Iranian researchers on drone technologies that have potential military applications.

According to a report published on Thursday by The Jewish Chronicle (The JC), a number of research projects were done in collaboration with Iranian universities that have been sanctioned by the UK, the EU, and the United States.

Alicia Kearns MP, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote on Twitter that she had written to Education Secretary Gillian Keegan to raise her “serious concerns about these unacceptable collaborations by British Universities with Iran, which risk breaching sanctions around sensitive and dual-use technologies.”

Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy has also said the revelation is “deeply troubling,” calling on the government to “urgently investigate whether or not UK universities and academics have breached UK sanctions on Iran regarding collaboration on military technologies.”

Among thousands of scientific papers published since 2017, an analysis by The Jewish Chronicle identified “hundreds of projects” that involved collaborations between British researchers and institutions and Iranian universities that have been sanctions over their involvement with the Iranian regime’s nuclear programme, the report said.

While most of the papers are on subjects about civil technologies, at least 16 studies involving 11 British universities had “potential Iranian military applications,” it said.

One of the papers that was highlighted had investigated the effect of two-stroke engines using an electronic fuel injection system in drones.

It was published in 2019 by Ahmad Najjaran Kheirabadi, then a postgraduate researcher at the Imperial College London (ICL), and two scientists from Iran’s Shahrood University of Technology and Ferdowsi University of Mashhad.

According to The JC, the drones that use that type of engine include the Iran-developed suicide drone HESA Shahed 136, which has been used by the Russian military in its invasion of Ukraine.

The JC also said the study was “supported” by the Iranian regime’s Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology.

The department’s deputy minister Mohammad Nouri and former minister Kamran Daneshjoo have both been on the EU’s sanctions list for more than a decade and on the UK’s own sanctions list after Brexit since the end of 2020.

Academics at the ICL also co-wrote another paper in 2019 on using laser technology to produce parts that have “a wide range of applications in the aerospace industry,” with researchers from Iran’s Sharif University of Technology, the UK’s University of Liverpool, and a number of universities in Europe, the United States, and Singapore.

The Sharif University of Technology is also on the UK’s sanctions list along with dozens of Iran’s aerospace manufacturers and organisations.

Another paper highlighted was written by Soheil Jafari, a lecturer at Cranfield University, which specialises in defence and security, and a Tehran-based researcher. Both authors previously worked at the Sharif University of Technology.

The research, published in 2021, examined fuzzy controller structures for aero engines and referred to potential military applications.

The JC also mentioned two papers involving academics from the Shahid Beheshti University, which has also been sanctioned.

According to the report, one of the studies, co-authored by a Northumbria University researcher, was about “blocking electronic eavesdroppers.” It also said academics from the two institutions have collaborated on more than 200 papers.

Another conference paper on developing cutting-edge electronic devices using superconductors and graphene was co-authored by some Cambridge University researchers and a University of Glasgow researcher who got her doctorate from Shahid Beheshti University.

Epoch Times Photo
F-4 Phantom fighter jets fly during the Army Day parade in the Iranian capital Tehran on April 18, 2010.  (Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images)

In an email to The Epoch Times, a spokesperson for Cranfield University said: “In an increasingly complex global operating environment, Cranfield University takes a thorough and robust approach to international collaborations and the security of our research.”

“We review our security policies and processes on a continual basis to ensure that research activities fully comply with guidelines and legal obligations,” the person added.

Northumbria University said in a statement, also emailed to The Epoch Times, that it’s reviewing the information.

“Northumbria University research is underpinned by ethical and good practice guidelines. To ensure fairness and consistency we are undertaking a thorough review of the information presented, and it would be premature to comment further at this stage,” a spokesperson said.

An Imperial College London spokesperson told The JC all its research is “subject to Imperial’s Ethics Code” and the university has “robust relationship review policies and due diligence processes in place, with our responsibility to UK national security given the utmost importance.”

A Glasgow University spokesperson said: “Research teams work in collaboration with academics, institutions, and organisations from a broad spectrum of global sectors.

“All research carried out at the University of Glasgow is underpinned by policies and a Code of Good Practice that ensures it is conducted to the highest standards of academic rigour.”

A spokesman for the UK Government said: “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.”

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