Russia has set up production of its own version of Iran’s Shahed-136 kamikaze drone and is already using it in the war against Ukraine, according to a report by the Conflict Armament Research group.
The experts traveled to Kyiv in late July and examined the wreckage of two Geran-2 attack drones that were used in the fighting in southeastern Ukraine. Both vehicles turned out to be copies of Iranian Shahed-136s, but contained Kometa electronic modules that matched components previously recovered from Russian reconnaissance drones.
In addition, the materials from which these models were made and the internal structure of their fuselages differed significantly from the “Iranian standard”, the researchers noted. For example, the fuselage of the Shahed-136 is made of lightweight honeycomb-type material, while the Russian Gerans are made of fiberglass laid on top of layers of woven carbon fiber.
Shahed are small barrage munitions that do not require a runway to launch and explode on impact. Owning their own version of this kamikaze drone and producing it domestically would allow the Russian military to “continue to rely on it” while maintaining “familiar attack scenarios”, said Damien Splitters, who led the team’s investigation.
The expert also noted that both the Shahed and its Russian version use satellite navigation signals to fly to programmed targets. However, by using Kometa guidance systems, the Russians have simplified the internal electronics needed to control the drones.
“It also shows how they were able to adjust the basic principles of Shahed, optimize them and use modules proven in other weapons instead of reinventing the wheel”, Splitters said.
According to Samuel Bendett, an expert on Russian military drones at the U.S. Center for Naval Analyses, military analysts have been watching to see if Russia could develop its own kamikaze attack drone since Iran’s Shahed appeared on the battlefield in Ukraine.
“Now we see that this is actually a domestically built drone, and changes are being made to its design based on its own needs”, Bendett said. In his opinion, “this shows that the Russians are trying to create a drone that is as good as the original Shahed, which can then be produced in significant quantities” by lowering costs.
Russia began using Iranian kamikaze drones for attacks behind Ukrainian lines in September. These drones can carry up to 50 kilograms of explosives and have a range of about 1,000 kilometers.
Shahed is one of at least three drone models Iran is supplying to Russia. In November, researchers discovered that most of the semiconductors and other electronics used in these weapons are supplied by companies headquartered in Western countries, including the United States.