RYAN BYRNE WRITES – With the Russian invasion of Ukraine dragging into its eighth month, Russian military forces are growing more and more desperate to bring a resilient Ukraine to its knees. This has forced Moscow to look beyond its borders for new weapons to bolster its beleaguered military.
As the fighting continues to rage, Russian forces are equipped with a new weapon of destruction: chiefly the Shahed-136.
The Shahed-136 is a loitering munition (sometimes called a suicide or kamikaze drone), meaning it can stay over and identify a target before flying into it. The Iranian-produced drone is packed with explosives and can be operated remotely (Russia also appears to be using the smaller Shahed-131 drone). With a range well over 1,000 miles, the drone has seen increased use by Russian military forces in Ukraine of late as Russia has depleted its supply of missiles.
The results of the new Russian weapons of terror have been devastating. An attack on the Ukrainian capital Kyiv in October killed four civilians, leaving others injured or trapped in the debris. The strike drew rebukes from the United States as well as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Suicide drone strikes have also damaged infrastructure in Ukraine, leading to constraints on power and energy usage for millions of civilians.
As drone attacks have increased, Ukraine has sought a way to counter. The military claimed to have downed several hundred of the drones launched by Russian forces. While the Ukraine military estimated that it had downed well over 80% of the drones launched in the attack on Kyiv in mid-October, it has still sought more support in countering Russian sorties. The Ukrainian government has repeatedly pressured Israel into assisting the Ukrainian cause. In September, Ukraine asked Israel to provide intelligence on Russo-Iranian cooperation before then requesting that the Israelis supply the Iron Dome defense system to counter Russian drone strikes. While the Israelis declined to provide air defense systems to Ukraine, they did offer to create an alert system for civilians.
Reporting by The New York Times stated that, at present, the Ukrainians are using “fighter jets that patrol around the clock; ground-fired antiaircraft missiles; and teams of soldiers with machine guns” to defend against suicide drone attacks. Likewise, the Ukrainians have made use of the German “IRIS-T SLM air defense systems” to help ward off drone attacks.
A friend in need is a friend indeed, as the saying goes: While the Iranians have denied sending kamikaze drones to the Russians, the United States (along with several allies) has claimed otherwise. In a statement on October 19th, the State Department said it had “abundant evidence that these UAVs are being used to strike Ukrainian civilians and critical civilian infrastructure,” and that the transfer of these weapons to Russia “from Iran [was] in violation of UN Security Council resolution 2231.” Several Western European nations, along with the United States, have agitated for the United Nations to investigate the weapons transfers between Tehran and Moscow.
Ukrainian forces have also made use of similar types of drones in recent months. The Switchblade drone, produced by American defense manufacturer AeroVironment, is a suicide drone used by Ukrainian forces to target Russian military units.
As the Russian military situation in Ukraine has become precarious, cheap and effective suicide drones have provided a long-range alternative for Russia to strike Ukrainian infrastructure. Even with increasingly effective defense mechanisms, Ukraine’s civilian population remains in the crosshairs of an attack from above.