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Iranian Combat Drones Are Extremely Destructive

February 28, 2023
Photos released on February 22 shows two Israeli MPs inspecting the parts taken from downed Iranian-made drones like the Shahed-131 and Mohajer-6. The large cylinder is the warhead of a Shahed. Via Ukrainian media.

In late February the independent monitoring group Conflict Armament Research released another field dispatch for its ongoing investigation of Iranian Shahed-series munitions in Ukraine. The publication presented evidence gathered in January from the wreckage of Shahed-131 and Shahed-136 “single use UAVs.” Although the term “kamikaze drone” and “loitering munition” have been applied to these weapons that the Russians introduced as early as August 2022–physical evidence wasn’t reported until September–their role has inspired other labels such as “one way attack-UAV” according to British military intelligence.

A remarkable detail illustrated by CAR is the warhead type (pictured above) on a Geran-1/Shahed-131 munition. It’s an elongated steel cylinder measuring 160mm x 500mm packed with high explosive. The CAR forensics discovered each warhead had a main frontal penetrator then multiple concave shapes around its surface to form molten projectiles during an explosion. Strangely, CAR found two “matrixes” or layers of metallic fabric around the warhead that becomes shrapnel. According to CAR the size and external characteristics of the warhead makes it tailor-made for destroying infrastructure targets. To give the reader an idea of how potent the Shaheds are as weapons they carry warheads of approximate size to an AGM-114 Hellfire. It means the Geran/Shahed supplied by Iran to Russia are the largest propeller-driven munitions used in the conflict.

Since October 2022 waves of Geran/Shahed munitions targeted Ukraine’s electricity grid and caused widespread power shortages in all large cities from November until January. Even the sate-owned utility Ukrenergo wasn’t spared and its main office in Kyiv suffered a direct hit from a Geran/Shahed drone last October. However, this month saw the electricity supply stabilize and 24-hour coverage return to millions of homes as the government did its best to mitigate the damage. According to the government’s own assessment half of Ukraine’s electricity substations have been struck by drones and missiles. Based on Ukrenergo figures in February 44% of nuclear power generation was lost, 75% of thermal power generation was lost, and 33% of block-type thermal power generation was lost.

There has been another miscalculation regarding the Geran/Shahed attack drones. On February 25 the UK’s defense ministry published a Ukraine update on social media that claimed the stocks of Shahed-131/136 “OWA-UAVs” had dwindled. Unfortunately, on the night of February 26 another wave of them flew past Ukrainian air defenses and struck the city of Khmelnitsky in western Ukraine. The location is 435 kilometers away from the Black Sea coast but only 270 km from Belarus. The public information office of the Ukrainian military reported 11 of 14 Geran/Shahed drones were eliminated. Throughout February these drone attacks were reported on the 10th, the 11th, and the 26th-27th. The timing and quantity of Geran/Shahed attacks differs each month and Ukrainian intelligence on the size of this drone arsenal varies from high to low estimates.

Below is a straightforward tabulation of Geran/Shahed “kills” claimed by Ukraine since the data first appeared in late 2022. The AFU-Stratcom releases regular infographics to illustrate these figures which are sometimes reported on by Ukrainian media. All in all, there’s no doubt hundreds have been neutralized within Ukrainian airspace. But a persistent information gap on their quantity and employment, as well as numerous misleading statements by authorities, has muddied perceptions surrounding these lethal drones. Hence, further attacks are to be anticipated and the destructive power of a single Geran/Shahed can’t be dismissed, especially on sensitive targets where civilians are nearby.


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