Though Russia has relied heavily on using its Iran-supplied Shaheed-136 drones to attack Ukraine over the last year, the UAVs have to a large extent failed to live up to their frightening reputation, with defense units shooting down far more of the craft than those that reach their targets. Now, hackers have demystified the loitering missiles further by revealing another secret about them: their relatively low cost.
When they entered the war about a year ago, Iran’s Shaheed drones were reputedly the highly effective, nearly unstoppable arm that could allow Russia to regain the offensive advantage it gained during the early phase of its invasion – then lost amid dogged Ukraine defensive efforts.
Making them even more fearful was how little was known about the craft: Even US defense officials admitted there wasn’t a lot of intelligence to be had on them. But over the months their super-efficient and enigmatic status has been considerably undermined.
Starting with what the drones cost. While conventional thinking held the Iranian craft must have fetched the same small fortunes as Western tech flowing to Ukraine’s aid, it was revealed last week they’re produced for as little as $375,000.
According to the Prana Network of hackers that gained access to military servers in Iran, an initial agreement between Teheran and Moscow struck a price of $193,000 per unit for 6,000 Shaheed craft. A secondary accord of $290,000 for 2,000 of the loitering UAVs was also set, according to the Kyiv Independent. In the end, Russia agreed to buy $1.8 million of the arms, the hackers discovered, though it’s unknown what price it paid for each.
Also eating away at the Shaheed’s reputation were discoveries of its amalgam of components. In addition to Iran-produced innards, wrecks of the drones have been found to contain a mix of often banal Western parts obtained in violation of embargoes.
Meanwhile, despite repeated shipments of those Iranian loitering drones to Moscow – and reports Russia has begun manufacturing the craft in factories locally – their fearful reputation has taken something of a beating in operation, too.
While it’s indisputable Shaheeds have caused considerable death and destruction over the past year, far more of the attacking craft have been neutralized by Ukraine than have gotten through to intended targets.
Indeed, on Sunday Ukraine President Volodymir Zelenskyy said the nation had shot down 359 of the kamikaze drones since the beginning of 2024 alone, with destroyed-to-missed ratios estimated at about seven or eight to one.
“The accuracy of our air defenses, the work of the electronic warfare systems, and the support from each of our partners in terms of the sky shield literally save lives,” Zelenskyy said, adding the increasing precision of anti-aircraft gunners and receipt of better electronic warfare equipment should allow even more of the UAVs to be stopped en route. “This is one of the key priorities of the year.”
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