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Russia Has A Massive Supply Of Killer Drones

April 2, 2023
Ukraine’s TDF practice shooting down Shahed-136 drones. Via Vadym Sarakhan.

On March 28 the Ukrainian Air Force paid tribute to a fallen pilot, Maj. Denis Kirilyuk, after his Su-27 was lost to enemy fire in the southern front. The air force hailed Maj. Kirilyuk’s long service and impressive combat record but didn’t publish details on his plane’s loss. Russian propagandists on social media were quick to exploit the event and spread a rumor that Kirilyuk’s aircraft was “downed” while trying to intercept Shahed-136/Geran-2 one-way attack (OWA) drones. Indeed, late in the evening of March 28 the air force detected 15 Shaheds flown from Krasnodar-Krai in Russia–its coastline is the eastern half of the Azov Sea. The rumors spread about Maj. Kirilyuk’s death were patterned after an incident in October 2022 when a Ukrainian MiG-29 crashed (the pilot survived) after debris from an exploding Sahed-136 struck the canopy.

All of the publicly available information about the Shahed/Geran OWA drones originate from either Western or Ukrainian sources. These still give an imperfect record of the deadly munitions that had a significant role wiping out Ukraine’s electricity supply from November 2022 until January 2023. While the Ukrainian military has adjusted its tactics over months–groups of pickup trucks armed with machine guns are now the last line of defense for the noisy Shaheds–so have the Russians by spreading out launch sites in Bryansk Oblast, Krasnodar-Krai, and maybe Belarus. An ongoing problem with the “data” of these attacks is there are repeated efforts to downplay or misdirect the threat these drones pose.

Last month, for example, the daily updates from the UK’s defense ministry that are shared in infographics claimed on February 25 how “…Russia has run down its current stock.” This was an unfortunate assessment as 14 Shahed/Geran drones were detected the next day and salvos of Shahed/Geran drones were launched on a weekly basis throughout March. AFU-Stratcom, being the public relations desk of the armed forces, shifted its coverage of Shahed/Geran attacks to the air force that same month. Up to 94 Shaheds were detected and the true number, based on uncounted launches from March 1 to 8, could reach 120 drones.

The first two bullet points in this infographic give wrong information. Via @DefenceHQ.

The UK’s defense ministry published another poor assessment on March 26 when it claimed there have only been 71 launches of Shahed/Geran drones that month and there was a “two-week pause” since the end of February. In fact, Ukraine’s own records of the same time period–two weeks–detected at least two dozen Shahed/Geran launches from March 1 to 15 because 23 were counted as shot down. Ukrainian officials aren’t immune from the same mistakes. In January it was claimed Russia had used up an original stock of 660 Shahed/Geran drones and were expecting a delivery of 300 more from Iran. If this were true then Ukraine’s air defenses only had success shooting down half of the drones launched against the country from September until December 2022. It also suggests Russia has enough drones at hand for multiple strikes until June 2023. Going by the average number of Shahed/Geran launches from September 2022 until March 2023, which reaches 74 drones per month (the real numbers fluctuate from 30 to more than 100), the actual stockpile may reach 1,000 drones.

Below is a tabulation of Shahed/Geran activity over Ukraine and their reported “kills.” There’s an obvious discrepancy between how the armed forces and the local media report figures. What is clear, however, is there’s been a two-fold increase of attacks since February and the success of Ukrainian defenses is presented as consistent. To date, Ukraine’s military have counted 518 Shahed/Geran kills and collected multitudes of fragments and wreckage. But the figures going back to September last year indicate the threat shall persist in the long-term.

March 14
Mar. 2
Mar. 3
Mar. 4
Mar. 5
Mar. 613
Mar. 7
Mar. 82
Mar. 9844
Mar. 10
Mar. 11
Mar. 12
Mar. 13
Mar. 14
Mar. 15
Mar. 16
Mar. 17161111
Mar. 182419
Mar. 19
Mar. 20
Mar. 21
Mar. 222116
Mar. 23
Mar. 24
Mar. 25
Mar. 26
Mar. 27
Mar. 28151414
Mar. 29
Mar. 30
Mar. 311099Kharkiv Obl.

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