TechRussia's Iranian-procured Shahed drones: A cost-effective menace for Ukraine's security budget

Russia's Iranian-procured Shahed drones: A cost-effective menace for Ukraine's security budget

Shahed at the exhibition in Ukraine.
Shahed at the exhibition in Ukraine.
Images source: © Getty Images | Global Images Ukraine

1:37 PM EST, February 6, 2024, updated: 4:07 AM EST, March 7, 2024

A Russian-Iranian agreement concerning Shahed drones has emerged online, as revealed by the Militarnyj portal. Hackers from the PRANA group, who breached the servers of the Sahara Thunder company, were instrumental in leaking the information. Sahara Thunder, a cover for Iran's armament export initiative, is supposedly a Dolphin 632 motorboat seller, but it actually deals with Shahed drones.

The documents disclose that Russia aimed to produce 6,000 drones under license by 2023. Iran initially priced each drone at 23 million rubles ($365 thousand), but reduced it to either 12 million rubles ($193 thousand) or 18 million rubles ($290 thousand) if the order was decreased to 2,000 units. The full contract for 6,000 drones, alongside equipment delivery and training for the Russians, was estimated at 108.5 billion rubles ($1.75 billion).

Moreover, cost estimates for production that included minimum component deliveries from Iran pegged the cost at 4.4 million rubles ($48.8 thousand). Once licensing fees were added, the final price was 14.9 million rubles ($165.5 thousand).

An interesting revelation was Iran's insistence on accepting payments in gold rather than in rubles. In fact, in February 2023, the 'Alabuga Machines' organization transferred 2,067,795 one-gram gold bars to the Iranian Sahara Thunder company.

Shahed Drones — Rudimentary flying bombs causing quite a stir

The Shahed-131/136 drones are basic designs built on components widely available to model-making enthusiasts; this makes parts for their production readily obtainable. These drones lack an advanced guidance system, relying instead on commercial GPS modules. Although the accuracy is too low for striking military targets, it's enough to hit places like residential areas.

Nevertheless, Shahed drones can inflict substantial damage as they carry warheads weighing up to 99 lbs. Their real power comes from mass deployment, forcing the Ukrainians to counteract them by wasting anti-aircraft system missiles, which could be better used against more substantial threats. Depending on the system, the unit cost of these missiles could reach several hundred thousand to a few million dollars.

Therefore, the only effective way to combat Shaheds is by using anti-aircraft artillery systems such as the Gepard, ZSU-23-4 Shilka, 2K22 Tunguska, or even groups of soldiers armed with machine guns, with a particular emphasis on heavy caliber designs like the Browning M2 or KPW.

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