Russia has reportedly started producing copies of attack drones acquired from Iran last year and is using them in combat against Ukrainian forces, despite sanctions imposed to restrict the country’s weapons production. A report from Conflict Armament Research, an independent weapons research group, revealed that the researchers inspected the wreckage of two attack drones used in combat in southeastern Ukraine. These drones appeared to be Iranian Shahed-136s, but they contained electronic modules matching components previously recovered from Russian surveillance drones.
The materials and internal structure of the drones differed significantly from those known to be made in Iran, according to the researchers. This investigation raises questions about export control and counter-diversion measures, as many of the components found in the drones were manufactured after February 2022, when the Biden administration imposed sanctions on Russia. Despite these sanctions, Russia has been able to acquire these items from the global market and incorporate them into advanced weapons.
The Shahed-136 is a one-way attack drone or kamikaze drone, meaning it does not require a runway to launch and explodes on impact. Russia began using Iranian-made Shahed drones to attack deep inside Ukraine in September. These drones are believed to carry about 80 pounds of explosives and have a range of about 600 miles. By domestically producing their own version of the Shahed drone, Russia can sustain its attack patterns and reliance on these one-way drones.
The report also highlights the use of satellite navigation signals by both the Shahed and the Russian-produced version to reach programmed target locations. The researchers found that most of the semiconductors and electronics in these drones came from companies headquartered in Western nations, including the United States.
The Russian-produced versions of the Shahed-136 are commonly marked as Geran-2 or Geranium-2. The fuselage of the Iranian drones inspected by the researchers was constructed with a lightweight honeycomb material, while the Russian Gerans were made with fiberglass over layers of woven carbon fiber. Additionally, the guidance sections of the Russian Gerans contained electronic modules called Kometa, which had been found in Russian drones recovered on the battlefield. This indicates that the Russians have simplified the internal electronics needed to fly and guide the drones by utilizing tested and battle-proven modules.
The ability of Russia to domestically produce its own one-way attack drones has been closely monitored by military analysts since the Iranian drones entered the conflict. This development suggests that Russia is striving to create a drone that is as capable as the original Shahed and can be produced in significant quantities. The ultimate goal for Russia is to maintain capacity, increase effectiveness, and reduce costs associated with these drones.