Use of Iranian drones by Russia shows its military weakness – experts

Russia’s use of Iranian drones in its war with Ukraine exposes the country’s domestic industry’s flaws and Tehran’s expanding market share, experts said to the AFP agency, quoted by RFI.

Ukrainian officials say that drones used in Russian attacks like the ones launched against cities and energy infrastructure on Monday, October 17, are believed to have been delivered by Iran in large numbers.

Iranian drones developed for two distinct reasons have so far been found in Ukraine’s airspace in two different versions, the quoted above media reported.

One of them, the Shahed 136, is an inexpensive “kamikaze drone” that can be set up to automatically fly to a certain set of GPS coordinates with a payload of explosives.

According to Vikram Mittal, a professor at the US Military Academy at West Point, quoted by RFI, the Mohajer-6 is “identical in size and functionality to the Bayraktar TB-2 drone from Turkey.”

Early in the war, the Bayraktar became associated with effective Ukrainian resistance to the massive invasion of Russian troops. The Ukrainian military used the Turkish model missile to hit and destroy Russian tanks and armor.

Both drones are classified as MALE (Medium Altitude, Long Endurance) unmanned aircraft class.

Are Iranian drones efficient on the battlefield? 

In situations where the opponent has no means of self-defense or retaliation, these drones are particularly effective, according to Jean-Christophe Noel, a researcher at the French Institute for International Relations. Much of their initial success, according to Mittal, “results from being a new weapon on the battlefield.” However, already at this stage the Ukraian army claims that it shoots down 85% of the Shahed-136 drones.

For the time being, the Ukrainian forces may utilize shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles during the day or night to attack the drones, including versions fitted with radar.

As they don’t have a backup mechanism to get to their target without satellite guidance, they might try to utilize sophisticated GPS jamming tactics to veer the Shahed-136 off track.

According to Grasser, a researcher tied to Paris’ Sorbonne University, quoted by AFP and France24, using such kamikaze drones is “a cost-saving strategy for Russia, because it saves expensive cruise missiles worth $1.5 million to $2.0 million” per shot.

However, the expert says, “the biggest weakness of these drones is they can only hit immobile targets.

The Iranian drones Shahed-136 present little danger to the field forces. Therefore, the advent of these drones shouldn’t influence how the battle is going.

Russian military industry’s fall

Despite being one of the biggest armaments producers in the world, Russia has nonetheless been obliged to turn to Iran in this situation.

The tactical and technological specifications for drones have been developed by the defense ministry. Most Russian producers are unable to meet them, as it appears.

Even though no Russian company sells long-range kamikaze drones like the Shahed 136, according to Grasser, “they are expected to have the equipment along the lines” of the TB-2 or Mohajer MALE drones.

The fact that they are using Iranian drones, he continued, “shows that Russian industry can’t keep up with the pace and is an admission of industrial failure.”

Western sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine have hurt the Russian economy, which was already weakened by the Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on supply chains.

The attempts by Russia to mass-produce these kinds of devices “have been futile since they no longer have access to Western technological components,” according to Noel.

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