The use of Iranian-made Shahed 136 and Mohajer-6 demonstrates production problems in Russia as a result of Western sanctions

Iranian drones, Russia's new weapons against Ukraine

PHOTO/FILE - Russian troops have made use of Iranian drones to attack areas in southern Ukraine, such as Mykolaiv and Odessa

The use of Iranian drones in Ukraine was confirmed in mid-September. Months earlier, the US had warned that Tehran was preparing to deliver unmanned aerial vehicles to Moscow. It was in Kupiansk, located in Kharkov oblast, that the Ukrainian armed forces announced the first downing of an Iranian drone in the country in the midst of the counteroffensive in the east.

Since then, Russian troops have made use of Iranian drones to attack areas in southern Ukraine, such as Mykolaiv and Odessa. According to reports, the UAVs are launched from Russian-controlled and occupied areas, such as Crimea or Kherson. Moscow mainly uses the Shahed 136 suicide drone - like the one shot down in Kupiansk - and the Mohajer-6.

As explained by Pierre Grasser, a researcher at the Sirice Centre in Paris, quoted by AFP, the Shahed 136, despite being quite large, has low production costs. This type of drone reaches its target via GPS coordinates entered before take-off. Subsequently, it reaches a fairly low altitude until it reaches its target hundreds of kilometres away

On the other hand, Mohajer-6s are similar in function and size to the Turkish Bayraktar TB-2, as Vikram Mittal, an associate professor in the US Military Academy's (USMA) Department of Systems Engineering, tells the news agency. "The Mohajer-6s are Russia's answer to Ukraine's TB-2s," Mittal says. Turkey has supplied such drones to Ukraine, as well as to Azerbaijan in 2020 during its war against Armenia.

Ukrainian forces have managed to destroy several Iranian drones in Mykolaiv, which calls into question the effectiveness of such weapons. Jean-Christophe Noel, a researcher at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI), told AFP that, like all drones, Iranian drones "are effective when the adversary has no means to protect itself or respond". Noel believes that the Shahed 136 and Mohajer-6 will have "initial success" as "a new weapon" in the conflict. Subsequently, however, the Ukrainian army will capture them, test them and "develop anti-drone systems". 

Grasser, for his part, recalls that the Shahed 136 suicide drones allow Russia to save "valuable cruise missiles", although they can only attack stationary targets. For this reason, the French researcher claims that the use of this type of drone "should not change the course of a battle" as they do not pose a threat to troops.

Effects of Western sanctions

Iranian drones in Ukraine also demonstrate weaknesses within the military sector of Russia, one of the world's leading arms manufacturers. Analysts cite reasons such as a lack of personnel to produce the drones, problems in international supply chains caused by the coronavirus or Western sanctions against Moscow. Due to measures imposed by the US and the EU, Russia is also reportedly buying weapons from North Korea, according to US intelligence. 

Despite all the evidence confirming the presence of Iranian drones in Ukraine, Tehran denies it, claiming that it remains neutral in the conflict. Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky has responded by revoking the accreditation of the Iranian ambassador to Kiev and ordering the reduction of diplomatic staff at the embassy. "The Russian military uses Iranian drones for its attacks. The world will discover all cases of collaboration with evil and there will be corresponding consequences," the Ukrainian leader declared.

In response to the Iranian drones and in keeping with its commitment to Ukraine, the US has already announced a shipment of Switchblade 600 kamikaze drones. This type of weapon, capable of staying in the air for 40 minutes, has a warhead similar to the Javelin anti-tank missile. However, as The Guardian reports, the drones may not arrive in Ukraine "for several months".

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