The Iranian-made Shahed drone being deployed by Russia to strike Kyiv citizens


Russian drones have continued to rain down on Ukraine, ravaging the country by killing civilians and destroying buildings.

The Kremlin’s ‘kamikaze’ suicide drones, laden with explosives, have become a terrifying feature of daily life for Ukrainians.

These drones – often small in size a cheap in comparison to other similar weapons – have become an integral part of Russia‘s war tactics, and one model in particular is wreaking havoc.

In an attack on Tuesday, Iranian-supplied Shahed-136 UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) were shot down from the sky over Kyiv in successive waves of 31 strikes, Ukraine’s armed forces said. Although Ukraine’s air defenses said they were able to shoot down 29, Russia’s drones have shown no relent.

While Ukrainian forces have been using sophisticated drones, such as the US-made Predator, the Shahed-136 has proved itself to be a crude but effective weapon.  

The Shaheds, which Russia has rebranded as Geran-2 , have a range of more than 600 miles and can ‘loiter’ above potential targets for hours before being slammed  into enemy soldiers, vehicles or buildings and exploding on impact.

An Iranian-made suicide drone, launched by Russia, is seen flying above Kyiv amid an aerial attack on the capital, Ukraine, October 17, 2022

A ball of smoke and flames rises over the streets of Kyiv as the city is bombarded by a swarm of Iranian-made kamikaze drones, hitting residential areas and energy infrastructure, October 17, 2022

A ball of smoke and flames rises over the streets of Kyiv as the city is bombarded by a swarm of Iranian-made kamikaze drones, hitting residential areas and energy infrastructure, October 17, 2022

Iran previously denied providing Russia with weapons, before admitting late last year to sending ‘a small number of drones months before the Ukraine war’ to Moscow.

Iranian Shahed-136 UAVs: Facts and figures

Ukraine has accused Russia of using Iranian-made Shahed-136 UAVs – also known as suicide drones – against military and civilian targets.

Tehran has denied selling the drones to Russia, but there is mounting evidence that Moscow is deploying the weapon.

Here are some facts and figures about the deadly drone:

  • Weapon type: Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)
  • In service since: 2021
  • Made in: Iran 
  • Maker:  HESA (Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industries Corporation)
  • Weight: 440lbs
  • Warhead: 80lbs 
  • Length: 12 feet
  • Wingspan: 8 feet
  • Range: 600 miles
  • Flight height: 13,000ft max. 
  • Speed: 120 miles per hour
  • Used in: Yemen, Iraq and Ukraine
Iranian-made Shahed-136 UAVs

Iranian-made Shahed-136 UAVs

The drones have been repeatedly used by Russia throughout the conflict, targeting urban centers and power stations.

They are comparatively cheap, costing in the region of £16,000.

Their use in swarms presented a major challenge to Ukrainian air defenses earlier in the war

And although Western nations have since bolstered the Ukrainian air defenses with anti-missile systems, the country is still in the grip of the relentlessness attacks.

Ukrainians who have witnessed drone strikes say they make a highly distinctive noise, like ‘motorbikes’ in the air, while some soldiers have taken to calling the drones ‘the flying lawnmower’.

The general staff of the armed forces of Ukraine released a video in October last year showing a smoking wreckage, claiming it to be one of the drones. The post said it had been shot down by a machine gun.

‘This is a primitive handmade product,’ Yuriy Ignat, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force, told Radio Free Europe after the attack last year.

‘It’s not a high-tech conveyor-belt production like the [Turkish-made] Bayraktar or American and Israeli [unmanned aerial vehicles],’ he added.

Ukrainian residents described the drone attacks to RFE. ‘You can hear the roar. First, I just hear them, but then I saw one fly by and then explode,’ one man said.

Another said: ‘There was a buzz that woke me up. I remember thinking: “What’s that?” The sound was approaching and then there was an explosion near the house.’

According to reports, the first recorded use of the drones was in Yemen. Now, Iran is reported to have sold hundreds of the drones to Russia.

Packed with explosives, the Shahed UAVs can be pre-programmed with the GPS coordinates of a target. They are known as suicide drones because they nosedive and explode on impact like a missile and are destroyed in the process. 

Iran's Shahed drone has been in service since 2021 and weighs 440lbs

Iran’s Shahed drone has been in service since 2021 and weighs 440lbs

Ukrainian air defense intercepts a Shahed drone mid-air in the third Russia aerial attack on the capital in 24 hours in Kyiv, Ukraine, May 30, 2023

Ukrainian air defense intercepts a Shahed drone mid-air in the third Russia aerial attack on the capital in 24 hours in Kyiv, Ukraine, May 30, 2023

A Shahed missile is destroyed mid-air as Ukrainian air defense intercepts an attack, Kyiv, Ukraine, May 30, 2023

A Shahed missile is destroyed mid-air as Ukrainian air defense intercepts an attack, Kyiv, Ukraine, May 30, 2023

Smoke billows from a building hit by a drone attack in downtown Kyiv, 17 October 2022

Smoke billows from a building hit by a drone attack in downtown Kyiv, 17 October 2022

A security officer uses his rifle to try and take down a suicide drone attacking the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, October 17, 2022

A security officer uses his rifle to try and take down a suicide drone attacking the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, October 17, 2022

The Shahed 136 is almost 12ft long with a 4ft wingspan in a delta, or triangular shape. The explosives are contained in the nose of the drone, as well as the technology that guides it to its targets for a precision strike. 

The engine is found at the rear and drives two bladed propellers. It has been compared to an engine one would find on a lawnmower or a moped.

According to Iranian data, the UAV’s range is about 1,000km (621 miles), but drone expert Samuel Bendett with the CNA think-tank told MailOnline that the Shahed is being used in Ukraine at much shorter ranges. That’s because its GPS guidance system – which is vulnerable to jamming – isn’t very robust.

In order to overwhelm air defences, several of the drones – generally batches of five or more – are launched at once from the same rack. They can be fired in quick succession from a rocket launcher mounted on a truck.

The rocket is jettisoned on take-off and the engine takes over once it is airborne. An almost horizontal launch allows the drones to fly low and slow, and so avoid radar detective more effectively. 

Iranians are known to have controlled Shaheds via radio. Whether Russia is capable of the same in Ukraine is unclear, though Ukrainians have reported seeing the drones change direction, suggesting at least some remote control.

Part of a downed Iranian-made Shahed-136 drone launched by Russia is seen near Kupiansk, Ukraine, September 13, 2022

Part of a downed Iranian-made Shahed-136 drone launched by Russia is seen near Kupiansk, Ukraine, September 13, 2022

View of an apartment damaged from the middle in a residential building in Kyiv as a result of a Russian military attack by Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones, May 9, 2023

View of an apartment damaged from the middle in a residential building in Kyiv as a result of a Russian military attack by Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones, May 9, 2023

Vehicles are destroyed amid an onslaught of attacks kamikaze drone on May 30, 2023 in Kyiv

Vehicles are destroyed amid an onslaught of attacks kamikaze drone on May 30, 2023 in Kyiv

Using Shaheds allows Russia to avoid putting sophisticated aircraft and pilots at risk and save its limited stock of expensive long-range precision missiles.

Russia has managed to use the Shahed drones to effectively saturate targets, whether a fuel depot or infrastructure and utilities like power or water stations. They have done so by using them alongside intelligence drones.

But Ukraine has said they have managed to shoot down a vast majority of the drones – more than 80 per cent – by using machine guns and portable anti-air missiles.

As the conflict essentially becomes one of attrition, Russia’s success in finding cheaper but still potent weapons will continue to be a major advantage.



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