Are Iranian suicide drones performing poorly in Russia-Ukraine war? - UK intel

Around 60% of the 86 Iranian Shahed-136 drones launched by Russia in its bombardment of Ukraine on Monday were reportedly shot down by Ukrainian forces.

A drone is launched during a military exercise in an undisclosed location in Iran, in this handout image obtained on August 25, 2022. (photo credit: IRANIAN ARMY/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
A drone is launched during a military exercise in an undisclosed location in Iran, in this handout image obtained on August 25, 2022.
(photo credit: IRANIAN ARMY/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

Some of the Iranian suicide drones used by Russia are unlikely to be fulfilling their purpose as a deep strike munition, with many being destroyed before hitting their target, the United Kingdom's Defense Ministry said in an intelligence update on Wednesday.

Around 60% of the 86 Iranian Shahed-136 drones launched by Russia in its bombardment of Ukraine on Monday were reportedly shot down by Ukrainian forces.

"These UAVs are slow and fly at low altitudes making lone aircraft easy to target using conventional air defenses," said the UK Defense Ministry, but did note that "There is a realistic possibility that Russia has achieved some success by attacking with several UAVs at the same time."

The UK Defense Ministry assessed that with a range of about 2,500 kilometers and a small explosive payload, the Shahed-136 is "unlikely to be satisfactorily fulfilling the deep strike function which Russia probably aspired to use it for."

"These UAVs are slow and fly at low altitudes making lone aircraft easy to target using conventional air defenses."

UK Defense Ministry

Gap in Russian air capabilities

Having been unable to achieve air superiority over Ukraine, the Russian military's lack of "lack of a reliable, sustainable, and accurate operational-level strike capability is likely one of Russia’s most significant capability gaps in Ukraine," said the ministry.

 A part of an unmanned aerial vehicle, what Ukrainian military authorities described as an Iranian made suicide drone Shahed-136 and which was shot down near the town of Kupiansk, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, is seen in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, in this handout picture released September 13, 2022 (credit: THE STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTORATE OF THE UKRAINIAN ARMED FORCES/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS) A part of an unmanned aerial vehicle, what Ukrainian military authorities described as an Iranian made suicide drone Shahed-136 and which was shot down near the town of Kupiansk, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, is seen in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, in this handout picture released September 13, 2022 (credit: THE STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTORATE OF THE UKRAINIAN ARMED FORCES/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

In late September, Russian state media reported that most of the drones being produced domestically in Russia were not meeting the tactical requirements of the Russian Defense Ministry.

In line with UK intelligence reports, one of the stated gaps in the needs of Russian forces in Ukraine was reportedly loitering munitions. 

The Russian need for loitering munitions would be ostensibly filled by Iranian drones. Since August, Russia has been using several variants of Iranian drones in its war against Ukraine, Ukrainian and US officials have confirmed.

"We are told that there are allegedly no Iranian drones in Ukraine. Well, we’ll find ways to ensure that there aren't any left indeed."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky

Russia using Iranian drones "fake news?"

However, Russian and Iranian officials have claimed that Russia has not been using Iranian unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in its invasion of Ukraine. On Wednesday, the UK Defense Ministry blasted Kremlin Spokesman Dimitry Peskov for saying that such reports were "fake news." 

"Evidence shows the opposite," the UK Defense Ministry said in response. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an October 6 address that Iranian drones were used by Russia " every day, and so far Iran says every day that there are allegedly no such drones here."

In another speech that same day, Zelensky said that "People see them in the sky. We shoot them down. But we are told that there are allegedly no Iranian drones in Ukraine. Well, we’ll find ways to ensure that there aren't any left indeed."

On Wednesday, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said that its forces have shot down almost 1150 drones since the war began in February.