They are accurate, small in size, capable of effectively penetrating air defenses when fired in a group, and above all, they are cheap.
In Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, killer drones have cemented their reputation as a powerful and cost-effective weapon that can seek out and destroy targets while spreading the kind of terror that can weaken the resolve of soldiers and civilians alike.
Additionally, they are rapidly outperforming missiles as a ranged weapon. Known as “the poor man’s cruise missiles,” these flying machines of death can flood any combat arena much more cheaply.
Iranian Shahed drones
Russia’s launch of successive waves of Iranian-made Shahed drones over Ukraine has multiple objectives: taking out power plants and other key infrastructure, crushing morale, and ultimately depleting the war arsenal and enemy weapons while he tries to kill them.
Rescuers work to clear debris from a residential building destroyed by a kamikaze drone strike in central kyiv, Ukraine.
How do war drones work?
Drones, unmanned or pre-programmed, have been used extensively in battle to gather intelligence, direct artillery strikes and, to a lesser extent, drop explosives. There are many types. Better known are sophisticated unmanned combat aerial vehicles that can launch missiles, such as the US-made Predator.
The Shahed drones, which Russia has renamed the Geran-2, are much more crude: loaded with explosives, they can be pre-programmed with the GPS coordinates of a target. They are known as suicide drones because they swoop down on targets and explode on impact like a missile.
This is reminiscent of World War II-era kamikaze pilots who would launch their explosive-laden planes at US warships and aircraft carriers.
Drones like the Shaheds are called loitering munitions by the military because when used at close range, they can hover over an area and then strike a target at an operator’s command.
According to the Ukrainian online publication Defense Express, which cites Iranian data, the hang-glider Shahed is 3.5 meters long, 2.5 meters wide and weighs approximately 200 kilograms. It has a 50-horsepower engine and reaches a top speed of 185 km/h.
Scenes in kyiv after Russia attacked Ukrainian cities with kamikaze drones on Monday, October 17, 2022, killing at least three people in an apartment building in central kyiv. A pregnant woman is among the three people killed in the attack on the residential building, kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko (photo) said.
The drone has previously been used in Yemen and in a deadly attack on an oil tanker last year, said Behnam Ben Taleblu, a fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Geran-2, used in short distances
And while its range is about 1,000 kilometers (621 miles), drone expert Samuel Bendett of the CNA think tank said the Shahed is being used in Ukraine at much shorter ranges. This is because its GPS guidance system – which is vulnerable to interference – is not very robust.
The Shahed are known to have been radio controlled by the Iranians. It is unclear whether Russia is capable of doing the same in Ukraine, although Ukrainians have reported seeing the drones change direction, suggesting at least some remote control.
Because they are cheap and plentiful, Russia has increasingly used Shaheds in Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky said last week that Russia had ordered 2,400 from Iran. Their use allows Russia to avoid endangering sophisticated planes and pilots and save its limited stock of expensive long-range precision missiles.
Waves of successive attacks in kyiv
In Monday’s attack on the Ukrainian capital kyiv, the city’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, said 28 drones formed waves of successive attacks. Fired from a launcher truck in rapid succession, the drones can fly low and slowly, allowing them to avoid radar detection.
Tehran denies supplying the drones to Moscow and the Kremlin has not commented. Washington says Iran’s denial is a lie.
They don’t technically form a swarm, Bendett noted. That kind of sophisticated drone technology exists – where multiple unmanned aerial vehicles communicate with each other. Instead, the Shahed are simply thrown in clusters to overwhelm defenses, especially in civilian areas. “They know the majority won’t make it,” he said. However, its power to terrify outweighs its explosive power.
85% of drones are shot down
kyiv claims that the drones are launched mainly from the south, but there have also been cases of launches from Belarus and Russia’s Kursk region. 85% of drones are shot down, according to Ukraine.
Ukraine shot down 51 Shahed-136 drones on October 17 and 18, Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat said on Tuesday (18.10.2022). A day earlier, he put the number of drones shot down since Russia began using them at 100.
Oleh Zhdanov, a kyiv-based military analyst, said it was not “100% confirmed” that the drones were assembled in Iran.
“It’s the same drone, only the assembly could be Syrian or Tajik … we completely disassembled it and fully understand that it consists of two parts: parts from China and parts produced by Iran itself,” Zhdanov said.
40 kilogram explosive charge
According to Mykola Bielieskov, a researcher at Ukraine’s National Institute for Strategic Studies, the Shahed only carries a 40-kilogram explosive payload, which pales in comparison to the explosive force a 480-kilogram conventional missile warhead can provide at a far distance. elderly.
“It is difficult to hit serious targets with this type of drone,” Bielieskov said. “But it’s also very difficult to bring them down,” he added.
Small fraction of the cost of a missile
At just $20,000 each, the Shahed is only a small fraction of the cost of a full-size missile. For example, Russia’s Kalibr cruise missiles, which have been used extensively in eight months of war, cost the Russian military about a million dollars each.
With such a low cost, the Shahed has been used effectively to saturate targets, be it a fuel depot or infrastructure and utilities such as power or water plants. Russia has used them precisely in combination with intelligence drones to target Ukrainian artillery, Bendett said.
Ukrainians gather outside the Iranian embassy to protest against the alleged supply of Iranian-made drones to Russia, in central kyiv.
Despite its small size, the Shahed’s explosive charge seems powerful enough to cause damage. In Monday’s attacks, one of the drones hit an operations center, while another crashed into a residential building, opening a large hole and collapsing at least three apartments, killing four people.
Bielieskov of Ukraine’s National Institute for Strategic Studies said Russia now directs the Shaheds at civilian targets rather than the battlefield because Ukrainian forces have “learned how to fight them effectively,” intercepting just over half of them.
With no immediate end in sight, the financial burden of the conflict will weigh heaviest on Moscow, which is not receiving billions in arms transfers from Western nations like Ukraine. As the conflict essentially becomes one of attrition – who can bear that human, material and financial burden longer – finding cheaper, but still powerful, weapons will be key.
“The Shahed-136 is a cheap version of a cruise missile, which Russia cannot produce quickly,” Bielieskov said.
Taleblu said Russia is likely to continue to increase its long-range strike capability with Iranian drones. “This should raise alarm bells in Europe and in the world,” he said.
Russian authorities have not released data on the number of missiles fired during the conflict, but the Ukrainian Defense Minister recently claimed that Russia has used most of its arsenal of high-precision missiles.
Bielieskov admitted that the Shahed drone strikes raise fears that Ukraine’s air defenses are inadequate. But he said their use – even in large numbers – cannot reverse Ukraine’s gains on the battlefield.
FEW (AP, Reuters)
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