Home » What to know about the Iranian drones Russia is using to attack Ukraine

What to know about the Iranian drones Russia is using to attack Ukraine

by Mahmmod Shar

A wave of drone strikes hit Kyiv on Monday.

ByPatrick Reevell

A wave of drones struck Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities on Monday morning, killing at least four and wounding several others, after one blew apart a residential building in the capital and other drones targeted thermal power stations across the country.

The attacks appeared to be the largest drone assault unleashed by Russia on civilian targets since the start of the war. Russia launched 43 drones and Ukraine successfully shot down all but six, Ukraine’s Air Force said.

The attack highlighted how Russia is increasingly turning to using attack drones built and supplied by Iran to bolster its failing war effort in Ukraine. Russia has ordered hundreds of military drones from Iran’s government, according to western and Ukrainian officials, as it seeks to fill gaps in its own drone arsenal and as it runs short of long-range missiles.

Ukraine’s government said the drones used in the attacks were mostly Iran’s Shahed-136s, large so-called loitering munitions, which Russia is employing like slow, small cruise missiles.

Iran’s government has denied it is supplying drones to Russia to use in Ukraine but their deployment has already been widely documented since September. Ukrainian troops regularly post images of their wreckage and the drones’ distinctive wing shape makes them easily identifiable.

The 11-foot-long, propeller-powered drones are relatively unsophisticated, according to defense analysts, but still pose a serious threat, particularly if Russia receives them in large numbers.

The Shahed-136 relies on a small civilian motor and commercially available GPS systems, making it vulnerable to jamming and relatively easy to bring down, Samuel Bendett, an expert on Russian unmanned military systems at CNA, a Virginia-based security research group, told ABC News. Russian troops have taken to nicknaming the drones “mopeds”, he said.

Firefighters works on a destroyed building after a drone attack, Oct. 17, 2022, in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP via Getty Images

Although they are much slower than Russia’s sophisticated cruise missiles, they can still travel hundreds of miles and can almost anywhere in Ukraine. They can be challenging for some air defenses to detect and intercept because they fly slowly and low. Although the missiles’ 50 kilogram payload is also rather small, as Monday’s attacks demonstrate, they can occasionally still cause sizable damage.

The main benefit of drones, according to experts, is their lower cost when compared to traditional missiles.

The entire purpose of using these Shaheds, according to Bendett, is to send them in waves, stress Ukrainian air defenses, make them use up ammunition, and keep people on edge. Just some of them making it through is what matters; it’s not about them all.

According to some experts, Russia appears to be using the Iranian drones to continue an aerial terror campaign aimed at sapping Ukrainians’ will to fight. Russia is specifically aiming to damage Ukraine’s energy infrastructure as winter approaches. According to Ukraine’s prime minister, the attack on Monday again targeted crucial energy facilities, cutting off hundreds of settlements from the power grid.

According to Ukrainian and western officials, Russia increasingly lacks the missiles needed to maintain a daily campaign against civilian targets, so the supply of Iranian drones is significant. The majority of impartial experts concur that Russia cannot produce enough products in sufficient quantities to replenish its stocks. However, Iran’s drones might enable Russia to fill that gap, enabling it to maintain its campaign of terrorism and weaken Ukrainian infrastructure.

Last week, Russian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy claimed Iran was willing to sell 2,400 drones to Russia.

The Washington Post reported over the weekend that Iran has agreed to increase its supply of attack drones to Russia, citing officials.

Iran’s weapons supplies to Moscow are also fueling tensions with Israel. Following The Washington Post report, Israel’s Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai publicly said it should start sending military aid to Ukraine.

Israel has so far resisted calls from Ukraine to provide its vaunted “Iron Dome” anti-missile defense system and Israel’s government on Monday did not confirm it would send weapons.

But Russia reacted furiously to the possibility, with former President Dmitry Medvedev on Monday warning that it would “destroy all interstate relations” between Russia and Israel.

A senior adviser to Zelenskyy, Mykhailo Podolyak, blamed Iran for Monday’s attacks, writing on Twitter it was “responsible for the murders of Ukrainians.”

Most experts said they did not believe the Iranian drones would be capable of fundamentally altering the military direction of the war, but that they could inflict daily death and destruction on civilians.

Perhaps the biggest threat the drones pose currently is to Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.

“Even if it’s a 50 kilogram warhead flying in at a very high speed and it hits an electric power station, it can cause very significant damage. So I wouldn’t downplay that at all,” said Bendett.

But even such strikes seemed unlikely to break Ukrainian’s determination to fight, he added.

“The cost could be substantial but it’s probably not going to change Ukrainian resolve,” Bendett said.


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