What are Iran-made Shahed-136 ‘kamikaze’ drones used by Russia to strike Ukraine?

Low-flying and relatively small, Iran-made Shahed-136 ‘kamikaze’ drones are built to attack ground targets. Image Courtesy: Twitter/ @DefenceU

Ukraine is in a spot since Russia started using Iran-made ‘kamikaze’ drones to counter its recent battlefield losses, as per media reports.

On 23 September 2022, the air raid occurred in the port city of Odesa in southern Ukraine in which at least eight Iran-made ‘Shahed-136’ kamikaze drones were deployed to bomb Odesa, AeroTime Hub reports.

Ukraine’s ministry of defence said that it intercepted six drones while the two damaged an administrative building. A civilian was also killed in the strike.

Hennadii Trukhanov, the Mayor of Odesa, said the ‘loitering munitions’ targeted the city again two days later. While one of the drones was blocked, an administrative building was struck thrice, reports AeroTime Hub.

On 26 September, the Russian forces reportedly used two Shahed-136 drones to hit military objects, a Ukrainian command post said.

“A drone destroyed by air defense forces. Two hit military infrastructure,” Ukraine’s Operational Command South said in a statement.

The drone attack on the military facility triggered a major blaze, however, no fatalities were reported.

“As a result of a large-scale fire and the detonation of ammunition, the evacuation of the civilian population was organised. Preliminarily, there have been no casualties”, Reuters quoted the command as saying.

Sergey Bratchuk, the spokesman of the Odesa regional military administration, also confirmed the attacks by Russian forces on Telegram.

“After the previous night’s enemy attack by kamikaze drones of the “Shahed-136? type, the dark time of the day passed without shelling,” Bratchuk was quoted as saying by ThePrint.

What are the Iran-made kamikaze drones and why have they become a cause of concern for Ukraine? Let’s take a closer look.

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Iran’s kamikaze drones

Low-flying and relatively small, Iran’s kamikaze drones are built to attack ground targets. These delta-winged unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) usually fly in pairs and slam into their targets.

Built by the Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company (HESA), Shahed-136, a modern single-use loitering munition, has a range of 2,500 kilometers.

These kamikaze drones by Iran do not use a camera system for navigation or target acquisition and have to depend on a commercial GPS signal, reports inews.co.uk.

These ‘suicide’ drones ability to carry warheads ranges from 5-30 kg.

Justin Bronk, a senior fellow at British think-tank Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), said “the Shahed-136 offer a relatively cheap way for states and some non-state groups to mount long-range attacks on fixed targets (using GPS/INS navigation) or radars (using an anti-radiation seeker).”

Noting the limitations of Shahed, Bronk said the drone’s attack can be foiled if the GPS system is jammed, blocked, or turned off.

Further, its limited warhead capability also poses a constraint. He tweeted the “warhead capacity is small (typically 5-30kg) which limits damage and viable target sets compared to regular bombs, missiles or artillery.”

Iran’s kamikaze-style Shaheds had made headlines earlier when the US had accused the Islamic nation of using these weapons to launch a coordinated attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil industry.

Shahed-136 drones in Ukraine

Renamed as ‘Geran-2’ or ‘Geranium-2’ by Russia, Shahed-136 drones have mostly been dispatched in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region, reports The Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

Colonel Rodion Kulagin, commander of artillery of Ukraine’s 92nd Mechanized Brigade, told WSJ the drones started doing rounds in the sky of the Kharkiv region last week.

Kulagin informed that these drones have destroyed two 152-mm self-propelled howitzers, two 122-mm self-propelled howitzers, as well as two BTR armored infantry vehicles in his brigade’s functioning area alone.

Explaining why the drones are being used mainly in the Kharkiv region, the commander said Moscow no longer has artillery advantage there after the Ukrainian armed forces reclaimed 8,500 square kilometres of land captured by the Russian troops.

Iran-made Shahed-136 ‘kamikaze’ drones are being used by Russia in Ukraine. Image Courtesy: Twitter/@DefenceU

As per the British ministry of defence’s intelligence report, Russia is apparently using these drones for tactical strikes near front lines instead of hitting strategic targets deep into the Ukrainian state, reports WSJ.

Ukraine has so far shot down 18 of these ‘suicide’ drones since last Wednesday and indicated that it is seeking ways to thwart the new threat.

“This is a fairly new weapon… so all the samples that we managed to obtain are being studied by specialists, and the most effective system for countering them will be worked out,” a spokesperson for the Ukrainian military’s southern command was quoted as saying by inews.co.uk.

Should Ukraine worry?

These Iran-made drones could provide Russia with a “potent counterweight” to the high-tech US weapons like Himars missile launchers being used by Ukraine, Scott Crino, founder and chief executive of Red Six Solutions LLC, a strategic consulting firm told WSJ.

“The presence of Shahed-136 in Ukraine war is undoubtedly changing the operational plans of Kyiv,” he said.

Western security officials do not believe Iran’s Shahed-136 ‘kamikaze’ drones can be a ‘game changer’ in the Russia-Ukraine war. AFP (Representational Image)

Further, Crino added, “the sheer size of Ukraine battlefield makes it hard to defend against the Shahed-136.”

However, Western security officials do not believe these drones can be a “game changer” for Russia, reports inews.co.uk.

With inputs from agencies

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