Scientists at British universities helped the Iranian regime develop technology that can be used in its deadly drone programme and fighter jets, according to an investigation by the Jewish Chronicle. 

The findings have caused senior MPS and peers to express deep concern over the reports, which if founded, will mean that the UK universities may have committed criminal activity.

British sanctions law prohibits the transfer of both military and “dual use” technology to Iran or anyone “connected” with it. It also bans what the regulations call “technical assistance” in the “development, production, assembly [and] testing” of restricted technology, and “any other technical service”

Providing this to any person or institution based in or connected to Iran is a criminal offence, punishable by up to seven years imprisonment.

The Jewish Chronicle claims 11 British universities, including Cambridge and Imperial College London, are involved, with staff producing at least 16 studies with potential Iranian military applications.

Other UK-based scientists have worked with Iran to research the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as mobile base stations to extend the range of communications systems, on special alloys for military aircraft and coatings to upgrade armour plating, it says.

Iran’s drone and missile arsenal is controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which CUFI is calling to be banned and is asking supporters to appeal to their MP.

Lord Polak, President of Conservative Friends of Israel, said:

“It’s clear that the IRGC controls Iran’s drone programmes, and that these weapons are being used by the Russians in Putin’s war on Ukraine.

“That it has a presence in British universities is yet more evidence — not that any should be needed — that we should have banned the IRGC a long time ago.”

Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy said the JC investigation was “deeply troubling” and called on the government to urgently investigate whether sanctions had been breached.

Based on an analysis of thousands of papers published in scientific journals since 2017, the JC has unearthed hundreds of projects in which British academics and institutions have collaborated with Iranian universities that have been sanctioned due to their involvement with its nuclear programme.

Most are on non-military subjects, but legal experts said that working with Iranians at these sanctioned universities on non-nuclear topics also risked breaching the sanctions rules.

These rules state that British citizens or residents must not engage in actions that “directly or indirectly” benefit a person or institution that is named on the official sanctions list.

The JC reports:

Among the leading universities where work with Iran has taken place is Cranfield University, a research institution specialising in science, aerospace and engineering, which has a strategic partnership with the RAF.

Academics there and at other UK universities have co-authored academic papers that acknowledge a military application. Others are working alongside academics at Iranian universities that have been sanctioned by Britain, the US and the European Union.

One of the key pieces of UK-Iran research uncovered by the JC was jointly produced by Ahmad Najjaran Kheirabadi, a researcher at Imperial College, and scientists from Shahrood University of Technology and Ferdowsi University of Mashhad.

It examined upgrading the lightweight, two-stroke engines used to power drones, including its HESA Shahed 136, which is being used by Russia to attack Ukrainian targets.

A second key piece of research — a joint study between the Centre for Propulsion Engineering at Cranfield University and the Iranian University of Science and Technology, Tehran — is also under the spotlight.

Despite having close ties with the UK Ministry of Defence, Cranfield examined the “military applications” of advanced systems known as “fuzzy controllers” in turbojet engines alongside the Iranians.

The 2021 study says: “This controller enables the engine for better manoeuvrability, which is an important aspect for military and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) applications.” The research, it added, “confirms the feasibility of the designed controllers for real-world applications”, and “is an appropriate candidate for control of the next generation of military aero-engines”.

It was carried out by Dr Soheil Jafari, a lecturer in Gas Turbine Thermal Management and Control at Cranfield, and Tehran-based Seyed Jalal Mohammadi Doulabi Fard.

Read the Jewish Chronicle article in full