They are accurate, small in size, can effectively penetrate air defenses when fired in groups and, best of all, are inexpensive.
In Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, killer drones cemented their reputation as a powerful and cost-effective weapon capable of finding and destroying targets, while at the same time spreading a kind of terrorism that could undermine the resolve of soldiers and civilians.
They are also quickly outperforming missiles with remote weapons. Known as “the poor man’s cruise missile,” the Flying Death Machine could flood any battle theater much cheaper.
Russia’s successive launch of Iranian Shahed drones over Ukraine has multiple goals. The main objective is to eliminate, demoralize, and ultimately deplete enemy warboxes and weapons as you attempt to clear them.
How do wartime drones work?
The Shahed drone, which Russia has rebranded as Geran-2, is also known for its roaming ammunition, which is also in Ukraine’s arsenal.
It’s loaded with explosives and the target’s GPS coordinates are pre-programmed. Then they can roam overhead and dive to kill. It’s reminiscent of Japanese World War II kamikaze pilots who deployed explosives-laden aircraft to American battleships and aircraft carriers during the Pacific War.
According to Defense Express, a Ukrainian online publication citing Iranian data, the delta-winged Shahed measures 3.5 meters (11½ feet) long, 2.5 meters (8 feet, 3 inches) wide and weighs about 200 kilograms (440 pounds). It is powered by a 50-horsepower engine with a top speed of 185 km/h (114 mph).
Dr Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Washington-based think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracy, said drones had previously been used in Yemen and deadly tanker attacks.
And while its range is about 1,000 km (621 miles), CNA think tank drone expert Samuel Bendett said the Shahed is being used in Ukraine at a much shorter range. This is because GPS guidance systems, which are susceptible to jamming, are not very powerful.
Shaheds are known to have been controlled wirelessly in Iran. It is unclear whether Russia can do the same in Ukrainian theaters.
Because it is cheap and plentiful, Russia could flood Ukraine with Shahed without endangering the lives of pilots or endangering sophisticated aircraft.
In the attack on the Ukrainian capital Kyiv on Monday, the city’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, said 28 drones constituted a wave of successive attacks. Drones fired in a row from a truck launcher can fly low and slow, better avoiding radar detection.
They aren’t technically herd, said Bendett. That kind of sophisticated drone technology exists when multiple drones communicate with each other. Instead, Shaheds are simply fired in swarms to overwhelm defenses, especially in civilian areas. “They know most of them won’t make it through,” he said.
However, their terrorist capabilities outweigh their explosive powers.
According to Mikola Bieleskov, a researcher at the Ukrainian National Institute of Strategic Studies, the Shahhead can carry 40 kg (88 lb) of explosives, which is insignificant compared to the 480 kg (1,050 kg) of a conventional missile. pound) warheads can provide a much longer range.
“It’s difficult to hit serious targets with these drones,” BLSScope said.
Small punch but low cost
At only $20,000 each, the Shahed represents a tiny fraction of the cost of a full-size missile. For example, Russia’s Kalibr cruise missiles, which were widely used during the eight months of the war, cost the Russian army about $1 million each.
Because of this low cost, Shahed has been effectively used to saturate targets, whether in fuel storage or infrastructure and utilities such as power plants or water stations. Bendett said Russia used it precisely to attack Ukrainian artillery in combination with intelligence drones.
Despite their small size, Shahed’s explosives seem powerful enough to do damage. In Monday’s attack, one drone struck an operations center while another struck a five-story residential building, puncturing it and collapsing at least three apartments, killing three people.
Bielieskov of Ukraine’s National Institute for Strategic Studies said Russia is now targeting civilian targets rather than battlefield targets because the Ukrainian military has “learned how to fight effectively”.
With no immediate end in sight, the financial burden of the conflict will increase in Moscow, which is not receiving billions of dollars in arms transfers from Western countries like Ukraine. As conflict becomes one of inherently exhausting (who can withstand the human, material, and financial burdens the longest), finding cheaper but still more powerful weapons will be key.
“The Shahed-136 is an inexpensive version of a cruise missile that Russia cannot produce quickly,” said Bielieskov.
Taleblu said Russia will continue to bolster its long-range attack capabilities with Iranian drones.
“It should sound an alarm in Europe and the world,” he said.
Russian officials have not released data on the number of missiles fired during the conflict, but a recent Ukrainian defense minister insisted that Russia used most high-precision missile weapons, from 1,844 the day before the invasion to 609 in the mid-day. October.
war of nerves
The constant buzzing of the propeller-powered Shahed drone is referred to by combatants as “mopeds” and “lawn mowers.” Since no one on the ground knows exactly when and where a weapon will attack, it can cause panic in anyone in its flight path.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy captured the terrorist element of the drone and posted on social media:
Bielieskov admitted that the Shahed drone strikes raised fears that Ukraine’s air defenses were inadequate. However, he said that even the heavy use of them could not reverse the gains gained on the Ukrainian battlefield.