Does Russia plan to manufacture 10,000 Shahed-136 loitering munitions annually? Russia aims to greatly increase its production of the 200-kg, Iranian-made suicide drones that can fly 2,500 km. The high cost Russia is facing for these drones is one of the key details claimed to be uncovered by an Iranian hacking group. This group says it took these secrets from a company linked to Iran’s main paramilitary force.
On February 4, the Prana hacking group said it leaked thousands of emails and several documents they claim to have stolen from Sahara Thunder. They describe Sahara Thunder as a cover operation for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Defense One, a media outlet, has stated that they could not confirm the authenticity of these documents.
Ruslan Trad, who works at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, told the media that it was hard to check if the files were real because a lot of their metadata had been removed.
Metadata is data that provides information about other data, such as when a file was created, by whom, and how it has been modified.
One of the papers, from “November 2022,” talks about a visit to Iran by workers from Alabuga, a Russian government-run firm overseeing a big industrial area, earlier in that year. In August 2023, the Washington Post shared information from leaked papers it obtained, revealing that Alabuga played a key role in a scheme to make 6,000 Shahed-136 drones.
The document shared by Prana revealed that Russia had agreed to purchase the technology and parts needed to put together 6,000 “Dolphin 632 boats.” It also mentioned that Russia planned to make up to 10,000 of these each year after getting all the necessary technology.
Russia is also trying to get the rights to make several different Iranian drones. These include two kinds of a “236” drone—one with a turbo engine and one with a piston engine that has a “seeker”—and ” Type 107″ drones used for spying and attacking. It’s assumed that the 107 refers to the Shahed-107 drone, and the 236 is probably related to the jet-powered Shahed-238 drone, belonging to the same group of products
However, numerous details within the Prana documents suggest that the term “Dolphin 632 boats,” used uniquely by the Russians, actually refers to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). For example, the document dated November 2022 lists components such as “avionics,” jet-assisted takeoff systems, and a Nassir-2 anti-jamming system.
A different slideshow with the Alabuga brand, called “Factory Production,” talks about the “boat” having a Fuselage and elevons. Building it needs experts in “REB,” which is a short way in Russian to say electromagnetic warfare.
Other documents, however, seemed to give a lot of detail to hide the fact that the boat is actually a drone, with one schedule for making it listing different parts related to boats.
It’s not certain if the “Dolphin 632 boat” is the same as the Shahed-136, even though other documents from the Prana leak clearly talk about the drone’s technical details. A slideshow with the Alabuga brand, titled “motor boat production technology,” shows several pictures of the aircraft that is driven by a propeller.
If the drone turns out to be the Shahed-136, the documents indicate that Moscow has spent more money than anticipated on this weapon, which it has deployed extensively in its conflict with Ukraine. Originally, Iran wanted to charge Moscow $375,000 for the license and parts to build each Shahed-136 in Russia. However, negotiations brought the price down to $193,000 for each of 6,000 drones, as mentioned in the document from November 2022.
This price is six times higher than the earlier estimated cost of the drone, which is built from cheap parts and can carry a 40-kilogram explosive. According to the document, many of the parts can be found locally, with about 10 percent of the components needing to be brought in from other countries.
According to a document from April 2023, Russia is also trying to get the rights to make several different Iranian drones. These include two kinds of a “236” drone—one with a turbo engine and one with a piston engine that has a “seeker”—and ” Type 107″ drones used for spying and attacking. It’s assumed that the 107 refers to the Shahed-107 drone, and the 236 is probably related to the jet-powered Shahed-238 drone, belonging to the same group of products.
As per the document, the 236 seeker variation is priced at $900,000, the 236 turbo-jet at $1.4 million, and the 107 drone at $460,000. The cost of the 236 turbo-jet is higher than the estimated price of Russia’s Kalibr cruise missile.
The document also stated that the timing of the deliveries would rely on the production capabilities of the company it is partnering with. For every type of drone, there would be a monthly delivery of 10 to 100 units in the next six months. Eventually, the monthly deliveries would increase to 100 units, resulting in a total of 2,130 seekers, 677 jet-powered drones, and 3,360 type 107 drones.
Shahed-136: Strategic Drone Insights
The Shahed-136, a high-precision loitering munition system, was developed by the Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company (HESA), under the Iran Aviation Industries Organisation (IAIO). The IAIO, a state-operated aerospace entity, falls under the jurisdiction of Iran’s Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics.
Since 2021, the Iranian military has been utilising the Shahed-136, also known as kamikaze or a suicide drone. Additionally, Russia has acquired these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for deployment in its conflict in Ukraine, where they have been renamed as Geran-2 or Geranium-2.
The Shahed 136 is a compact UAV powered by a propeller and designed to carry a payload of up to 30 kilograms. It boasts a significant range of 2,500 kilometres and can remain airborne for as long as 12 hours. Capable of autonomously navigating to a target and detonating on impact, the Shahed 136 serves as a powerful tool in diverse operational contexts.
Specifications of Shahed 136
- Manufacturer: HESA Iran
- Launched: 2021
- Warhead: 36 kg explosive
- Range: 2500 kilometres
- Maximum speed: 185 km/h
- Weight: 200 kg
- Length: 3.5 metres
- Wingspan: 2.5 metres
The Shahed 136 is a compact UAV powered by a propeller and designed to carry a payload of up to 30 kilograms. It boasts a significant range of 2,500 kilometres and can remain airborne for as long as 12 hours. Capable of autonomously navigating to a target and detonating on impact, the Shahed 136 serves as a powerful tool in diverse operational contexts
Shahed drones are beneficial because they are affordable, can fly long distances on their own, and stay in the air for a long time. This allows for careful planning and spying, and their ability to blow themselves up means they can destroy targets, including well-protected places like bunkers and command centres.
But Shahed drones come with drawbacks too. Their slow speed and weakness against air defence systems mean they can be easily caught. Also, they can’t carry as much compared to other military platforms.
Iran’s Shahed 107 & 238: Advanced Loitering Munitions
- Developed by Iran in January 2024, the Shahed 107 is aloitering munition UAV designed for combat scenarios.
- With a wingspan of 3 metres and a length of 2.5 metres, it combines reconnaissance capabilities with the ability to engage targets.
- Its impressive range of 1500 kilometres allows it to operate effectively in various theaters of conflict.
- It weighs approximately 441 pounds (200 kg) and can reach speeds exceeding 185 Kmph (115 mph)
- The Shahed 107 has been deployed in the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian war, demonstrating its combat readiness and versatility .
Thought to be equipped with a device that can transmit live video, the drone’s ability to gather information may be useful in finding targets on Ukraine’s frontline. Other drones or weapons systems could use this information to carry out focused attacks.
The Shahed 238 is a powerful Iranian loitering munition fueled by a Toloue-10 micro-turbojet 896 engine. It was unveiled in November 2023 and boasts impressive speeds of up to 500 km/h. Equipped with autonomous navigation and diverse guidance systems, this drone poses a significant threat in conflict situations.
Recently, a new version of the Shahed-136 drone called the Shahed-238 was showcased in Tehran, Iran. This upgraded drone is available in three variations, each designed with a unique approach to identifying and striking targets. According to the Air Force, the special qualities of this drone make it more difficult to detect and track, enhancing its effectiveness in combat operations.
The Shahed 238 is a powerful Iranian loitering munition fueled by a Toloue-10 micro-turbojet 896 engine. It was unveiled in November 2023 and boasts impressive speeds of up to 500 km/h. Equipped with autonomous navigation and diverse guidance systems, this drone poses a significant threat in conflict situations
Specifications for the Shahed 238
- Length: Approximately 3.5 metres.
- Wingspan: Approximately 2.5 metres.
- Speed: The Shahed 238, powered by the Toloue-10 micro-turbojet 896 engine, can supposedly reach speeds of up to 600 kilometres per hour (373 mph). This significant speed boost compared to the propeller-driven Shahed-136 enhances its operational capabilities .
- Guidance Systems: The Shahed-238 is equipped with different guidance systems:
- Basic Satellite Navigation / INS: Used to hit fixed targets.
- Radar Seeker: Potentially for anti-radiation homing against radars or active targeting of moving objects.
- EO / IR Sensor: Enables autonomous homing on heat sources or operator-controlled guidance .
As per the published presentation, the jet drone is equipped with a warhead weighing 50 kg. It is capable of achieving speeds of up to 600 km/h and covering distances of up to 2000 km. However, it is probable that the last parameter is incorrect, and according to other information, it is 1000 km. While the jet-powered Shahed-238 offers increased speed, it may come at the expense of reduced flight range compared to its propeller-driven counterpart, the Shahed-136.
-The writer is a Defence, Aerospace & Political Analyst based in Bengaluru. He is also Director of ADD Engineering Components, India, Pvt. Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany. You can reach out to him at: firstname.lastname@example.org