Russia has conducted dozen strikes against civilian and critical infrastructure targets across Ukraine over the past week, including with the Shahed-136 ammunition lying around. Although the Shahed-136 is unlikely to change the general direction of the conflict, it has increased Russia’s long-range strike capability as Moscow’s traditional missile stocks dwindle. It also provides additional capabilities and capabilities against Ukrainian frontline positions, likely providing greater lethality than locally produced Russian-produced vagrancy munitions.
Moscow is behind in drone development and is now rushing to catch up. While the Russian army the fields various UAVs for combat and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) roles, insufficient capability has undermined Russia’s war effort in Ukraine. To help remedy this weakness, Moscow turned in Tehran, which has started to inject resources into its drone program In the 1980’s and has since emerged as a regional UAV Powerful and series proliferator.
In July, the White House warned that Iran “was preparing to supply Russia with up to several hundred drones, including weapons-capable drones, on an expedited schedule.” Declassified US intelligence said Tehran present various drones to Russian delegations in June and early July and began coaching Russian operators later that month. In mid-August, Russian cargo planes reportedly started pick up dozens of Iranian drones, while Tehran sent advisers to Russia, and allegedly even in occupied Ukrainian territories, to help the Russians get started. Russians would have began testing the Shahed-136 in Ukraine in August, and visual evidence of its employment in Ukraine first emerged in mid-september.
In addition to the Shahed-136, Russia also employed its smaller cousin, the Shahed-131with the Mohajer-6 unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV). WE and ally Officials initially indicated that Moscow was primarily interested in Iran’s Shahed-191 and Shahed-129 UCAVs. So far, neither has been visually confirmed to be in Russian possession, although a Ukrainian military report noted Russia had received the Shahed-129. Unlike Russia’s locally produced drones, Moscow does not release propaganda videos featuring its new Iran-supplied arsenal, so open sources may not present a full picture of the systems Russia has received or received. how she uses them.
Open-source proof indicates that Russia uses the Shahed-136, which Moscow referred to as “Geran-2”, mainly for long-range flights strikes versus predetermined static targets. In this way, the Russians are essentially using the Shahed-136 to compensate for their dwindling supply of cruise missiles. The Shahed-136 carries a much smaller warhead – 40kgaccording to Yuriy Ignat, spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force command, against 450 kg for Russia Kh-101 air-launched cruise missile, for example. But it is also much cheaper and therefore more numerous, which costs thousands rather than hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollar per ammunition.
One of the advantages of propeller-driven drones such as the Shahed-136 is their efficient motors, which allow them to travel long distances and hover over potential targets despite their small size. Estimates of the Shahed-136’s maximum range vary. Complaints go as high as 2,500 km and as low as several hundred kilometers. Ignat claimed that his range is 1000 kilometerswhich follows with a investigation by Ukrainian experts who studied a downed Shahed-131 (essentially a smaller version of the Shahed-136) and estimated its range at 900 km. Assuming the 1,000 km figure is roughly correct, Russia can use the Shahed-136 to strike anywhere in Ukraine from the relative safety of Crimea Where Belarusas well as other occupied parts of Ukraine.
The Shahed-136 can be fired from a truck-mounted mobile launcher, which makes it difficult to detect and neutralize the “left of the launch”. The wandering ammunition is also hard detect by radar, thanks to its small size, low altitude and speed, and aptitude to change direction in flight and attack weak points in air defense cover. Ukrainians succeeded some success knocking them down with surface-to-air missiles and even small arms Fire. But in sufficient numbers, the Shahed-136 can overwhelm Ukrainian air defenses, especially at night, when Ukrainian troops find it more difficult to visually acquire the ammunition. Russia would have uses loitering ammo in pairs, one flying above the other to act as backup if the lower one is shot down. If the first ammo is successful, the second can be aimed at a different target.
In addition to conducting long-range strikes, accounts from Ukrainian service members suggest that Russia also used the Shahed-136 against frontline targets, such as Ukrainian armored vehicles and artillery positions. However, the Shahed-136 seems to lack a camera, which means the Russians are susceptible using other drones, such as the Mohajer-6 or the Russian Orlan series drones, as well as special operations forces, to locate targets. The Shahed-136 can probably receive in-flight targeting updates, speeding up the kill chain and allowing the ammo to adjust mid-flight if the target repositions. While the Shahed-136’s apparent reliance on commercial-grade GNSS navigation reduces accuracy, its relatively large warhead – far larger than Russia’s Lancet Where KUB ammo lying around – can help compensate.
Using the Mohajer-6 as a relay would also increase the range at which the operator can control the Shahed-136. Otherwise, the wandering munition, which communicates with the ground control station via radio (rather than satellite), would lose contact with the station after only a few tens of kilometers when flying at low altitude to avoid detection. With this extra range, the control range of the Shahed-136 can far exceed that of the Lancet or KUB.
However, the Shahed-136 did not allow Russia to counter the Western-supplied rocket artillery systems wreaking havoc against the Russian rear, as some Russian commentators hoped and some Ukrainian officials and Western analysts feared. The Ukrainian HIMARS and MLRS rocket artillery systems probably “fire and spin” too quickly for the GNSS-dependent Shahed-136 to hit. Some have affirmed the ammunition may contain a Infrared sensor, which would allow it to point towards vehicles, but the remains of downed Shahed-136s offer no evidence of such a sensor. Moreover, despite the reception of Iranian drones, Russia could still suffer from a shortage UAVs capable of reconnaissance at distances sufficient to chase rocket artillery systems.
Likewise, there has been no clear evidence that the Shahed-136 possesses an anti-radiation aptitude, which would allow it to steer towards the radar emitters. Such a capability would pose a serious danger to Ukraine’s ground-based air defenses, which have paralyzed the Russian Air Force. But the Shahed-131 studied by Ukrainian experts did not have an anti-radiation seeker, and images of Shahed-136 shot down in Ukraine do not seem to show any either. It is possible that there are variants of the Shahed-136 with infrared or anti-radiation capabilities, but these models have not been publicly registered in Ukraine.
Overall, the Shahed-136 hasn’t proven to be a game-changer for Moscow, but it does provide additional precision strike capability and capability. Eventually, however, Russian stocks will need to be replenished. Reports from Ukrainian military indicate Russia has already spent more than 100 of these munitions and had about 300 left October 14. Last week President Volodymyr Zelenskyy claims Moscow hopes to buy another 2,400 Shahed-136s, while The Washington Post on Sunday cited unnamed officials said Iran was preparing to send Russia “dozens” of additional Mohajer-6s and an unspecified larger number of Shahed-136s. It remains to be seen whether Tehran will be able to quickly provide as much.
John Hardie is deputy director of the FDD’s Russian program. Ryan Brobst is a research analyst at the FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power.
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