Ukrainian efforts to defeat the Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones Russia has been using in the ongoing war have become “increasingly successful,” the United Kingdom’s Defense Ministry said on Monday, amid reports that at least hundreds of the aircraft have been destroyed.
As Russia struggled with weapons and equipment supplies in the face of unprecedented sanctions for its war in Ukraine, The Washington Post, citing unnamed U.S. officials, reported in August that Russia had picked up the first shipment of Iranian unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and departed Iran with them. Iran has repeatedly denied providing drones to Moscow, but the Pentagon has publicly confirmed that Iranian drones have been provided to Russia to use in its attack against Ukraine.
Pentagon press secretary Air Force Brigadier General Pat Ryder said at a media briefing last week that the U.S. Defense Department has assessed that Iranian military personnel have also been in Ukraine to assist Russia with its drone operation.
“In many ways, these drones are used to, as psychological weapons used to create fear. But from an operational, from a strategic standpoint, it still doesn’t change the fact that Russian forces on the ground continue to lose territory or at best hold ground,” Ryder said.
The Shahed-136 UAVs, which are commonly referred to as “kamikaze” drones, have reportedly been deployed for attacks across Ukraine in recent months, including against the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv last week. However, frequent Ukrainian updates on the successful destruction of the Iranian drones have led to doubts on the efficacy of the UAVs in the war.
The U.K. Defense Ministry said in its Monday intelligence update that Russia has continued to use Iranian drones “against targets throughout Ukraine.” Ukraine has been seeing more and more success in defeating the Shahed-136 drones, the ministry added.
It reported that official sources like Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky have said that up to 85 percent of Shahed-136 drone attacks “are being intercepted.”
“These UAVs are slow, noisy and fly at low altitudes, making lone aircraft easy to target conventional air defenses,” the update said. “Russia is likely expending a high number of Iranian Shahed-136 UAVs in order to penetrate increasingly effective Ukrainian air defenses. It is likely using them as a substitute for Russian-manufactured long-range precision weapons which are becoming increasingly scarce.”
The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said last week that as of October 19, more than 200 of the Shahed-136 drones provided to Russia had been destroyed. Additionally, Ukrainian forces shot down another 16 of the “kamikaze” UAVs over the weekend, the general staff said in a Facebook post.
Sarah Kreps, an expert of drone warfare at Cornell University and a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, told Global Defense Corp on Monday that whether or not the interception of 85 percent of the Shahed-136 drones can be viewed as a success depends on one’s definition.
“I think these are operating on a different model, which is kind of the law of large numbers,” she said. “If we deploy 30 of these, if five get through, they could do some damage to the Ukrainian energy infrastructure.”
Kreps added that 15 percent of drones getting through can still have a “fairly destructive impact,” which could explain why Ukraine has been asking for more air defense capabilities from the U.S.
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