Tailor-Made Shaheds: Iranian Drones Are Being Modified To Russian Specifications

As Russia and Iran push ahead with plans to build a new factory for manufacturing thousands of loitering munitions (single-use, self-detonating drones) for the Ukraine war, remnants of one of these drones recovered from the battlefield indicate Iranian drones are receiving modifications to meet Moscow’s war requirements.

A young Iranian man is shaking hands with a cleric while standing under an Iranian-made unmanned … [+] aerial vehicle (UAV) Shahed-136, during a rally to mark the 44th anniversary of the Victory of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, at Azadi (Freedom) Square in the west of Tehran, on February 11, 2023. (Photo by Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

NurPhoto via Getty Images

The UK-based Conflict Armament Research (CAR) released a report on Feb. 9 disclosing findings from a field investigation conducted this January. That investigation revealed that one of Russia’s Iranian-built Shahed-131 loitering munitions contained a multipurpose warhead.

“CAR’s analysis shows that this multipurpose warhead was designed to ensure maximum damage to targets such as critical infrastructure, while also having a significant impact on the ability to undertake quick repair efforts,” read the report.

Russia has launched hundreds of Iranian Shahed-131 and Shahed-136 (respectively known as the Geran-1 and Geran-2 in Russian service) against Ukraine’s cities and power grid since September. CAR notes that the warhead its team uncovered from the Shahed-131 “suggests that they may have been designed specifically for attacks against large targets like energy infrastructure.”

“This observation is supported by the fact that, while the overall finish of the warhead seems well done, the fragmentation matrixes appear to be a later addition, with poor fit, finish, alignment and quality,” it added.

In its conclusion, the report also pointed out that such warheads enable these drones “to be versatile enough to be used against different targets by Russian forces in Ukraine.”

“While some are built to destroy targets located behind cover, the distinctive multipurpose warhead observed by CAR investigators in January 2023 appears to have been designed to inflict as much damage as possible to infrastructure in a large radius,” it added.

Samuel Bendett, a research analyst with the Center for Naval Analyses, noted that this new evidence does conclusively prove that Russia “is modifying Shahed warhead for maximum damage.”

“This modified type of warhead can leave a lot of damage in its wake in a strike on a civilian energy installation, making repairs difficult and lengthy, thereby increasing the impact of each drone that gets through Ukrainian defenses,” he told me.

And Russia appears to be taking steps to ensure that more of these drones do get through. The slow, lumbering Shaheds are powered by a notoriously loud motor – earning them the derisive nicknames “lawnmower” and “flying moped” – that markedly increases the chances that Ukrainian forces hear them coming and can shoot them down.

“Last year, there was also a lot of discussion across the Russian Telegram channels about modifying Shahed drones with quieter motors – perhaps electric ones – to decrease their noise in flight and lower the acoustic location chances for the Ukrainian defenders,” Bendett said. “It’s unclear if that modification was already made.”

TOPSHOT – A drone approaches for an attack in Kyiv on October 17, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of … [+] Ukraine. (Photo by Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP) (Photo by YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP via Getty Images)

AFP via Getty Images

CAR’s investigation roughly coincided with a Jan. 5 visit by an Iranian delegation to an empty site in the Russian town of Yelabuga 600 miles east of Moscow. As The Wall Street Journal later reported, Iran and Russia are moving ahead with their plan to build a drone factory there that will produce a new version of the Shahed-136 that can purportedly travel further and faster.

The new version will undoubtedly be remodeled with the conditions of the modern conventional Ukraine war borne in mind rather than the comparably low-intensity conflicts in the Middle East that the current version was designed for fighting.

Between Nov. 17 and Dec. 7, 2022, there were none of the hitherto constant Russian Shahed drone strikes against Ukraine. Many speculated that Russia had merely expended the first batch of drones Iran delivered in August. Others speculated that the freezing winter conditions caused them to malfunction since they were designed for operations in the warmer climate of the Middle East. Consequently, Russia had paused its campaign while it took steps to ‘winterize’ them.

The upgraded Shahed-136 will likely feature components and subsystems better suited for freezing weather conditions and other conditions unique to the war in Ukraine when it ultimately rolls off the planned assembly line in Yelabuga.

“From the outside, the organization of joint production of drones at Russian enterprises seems to be a win-win for both sides,” Anton Mardasov, an independent Russian analyst and non-resident scholar of the Middle East Institute’s Syria program, told me.

He noted that, on the one hand, Russia would get more equipment that can strike stationary targets at long distances amidst ongoing shortages of its own high-precision weaponry.

“On the other hand, Iran can gain access to technology previously closed to it and improve its drones for modern medium- and high-intensity conflicts,” he said.

However, Mardasov also questioned whether such cooperation will prove beneficial for Russia in the long run, especially given the implications it will likely have for its relations with Israel and Saudi Arabia.

“It is unlikely that these states are excited at the prospect of Russia equipping Iran with more advanced technology tested in a brutal war,” he said.

Since the Ukraine war began, Iranian officials have bragged that countries worldwide are “queuing up” to buy its homegrown drones in light of their purported combat-proven prowess. One unnamed top advisor even claimed this February that China has requested 15,000 of them!

Mardasov doubts this claim, noting that Russia’s choice of Iranian drones is less a testament to their quality and capabilities and more a testament to Moscow’s restricted options.

“The current surge of interest in them because of the war in Ukraine is an accident” originating from a mistake made by Russian troops in planning the initial February 2022 invasion, he said. “In fact, Moscow has been trying to correct this ‘birth defect’ for almost a year now, including with the help of Iranian drones.”

“In normal times, Moscow would never have bought Iranian drones,” he added. “So, the current efforts to modernize the drones and strengthen, for example, the shell of their combat units are still efforts that can be characterized by the proverb: ‘poverty is the mother of all art.'”

“This observation is supported by the fact that, while the overall finish of the warhead seems well done, the fragmentation matrixes appear to be a later addition, with poor fit, finish, alignment and quality,” it added.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/pauliddon/2023/02/12/tailor-made-shaheds-iranian-drones-are-being-modified-to-russian-specifications/

Donovan Larsen

Donovan is a columnist and associate editor at the Dark News. He has written on everything from the politics to diversity issues in the workplace.

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