Tonight, enemy kamikaze drones Shahed 136 / Geran-2, which have been terrorizing Odesa and Mykolaiv Oblast for several weeks, reached Kyiv Oblast from Crimea and hit infrastructure facilities in Bila Tserkva. In fact, this is quite an achievement for a rather small and almost homemade UAV. What are these Shahed 136 and why are they so dangerous?
In fact, the Shahed 136 are, of course, not homemade: these UAVs are produced by the Iranian Aircraft Industrial Company (HESA). But due to the fact that Iran has been under US sanctions for more than 40 years, HESA engineers have limited access to modern electronics and components, so they resort to various contrivances, for example, using widely available civilian components in military UAVs. In addition, over 40 years, Iran has learned a little to circumvent sanctions through third countries.
HESA is very hard at reverse engineering and most of “its” products are replicas of old western planes and helicopters. For example, the Northrop F-5 light fighter (1959) and the Bell 206 helicopter (1962) manufactured in the USA.
Unfortunately, before the war, HESA even cooperated with Ukraine, producing IrAn-140-100 (An-140) regional cargo and passenger aircraft in cooperation with Antonov.
Shahed 136 kamikaze drones are one of HESA’s newest developments. They officially entered service with the Iranian army only in 2021, and were first demonstrated on video in December 2021. But according to Newsweek, as early as 2020 they were being used by Houthi groups in Yemen.
In August 2022, information appeared that during the visit of the Russian military delegation to Iran in July 2022, the parties concluded an agreement on the supply of several types of drones to the Russian Federation, including the Shahed 136. It was about hundreds of UAVs that Russian and were delivered to Russia by Iranian transport planes. And although official Iran has repeatedly emphasized that it does not supply weapons to Russia, no one believes them.
Moreover, the Commander-in-Chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Major General Hossein Salami bragged that “one of the world’s leading powers uses Iranian-made weapons.” And who could it be?!
The Russians are rebranding the Shahed 136 as supposedly their own Geranium-2 development, but it’s not entirely clear who they’re trying to fool? No one believes them either.
The first Shahed 136 / Geran-2 was shot down in Ukraine on September 12, 2022, near Kupyansk, Kharkiv region. Since mid-September, Shahed 136 attacks have been recorded along the entire front line, with an emphasis on the South, which is due to the fact that the launch systems of these UAVs are located in Crimea. Given the claimed flight range of 1,000 km (and even 2,500 km, which sounds too fantastic), the Shahed 136 can attack targets anywhere in Ukraine, but until today the Russians have not dared to launch drones over long distances.
The exact characteristics of the Shahed 136 / Geran-2 are currently unknown, but from the wreckage and video it is possible to find out something. Yes, it is known that the UAV has an inertial guidance system and uses a very loud Chinese MD550 engine, which can be heard several kilometers away, and for which the Ukrainians nicknamed these drones “mopeds”. Mado MD550 is a Chinese copy of the German engine Limbach L550E, which in turn is based on the engine… Volkswagen Boxer, manufactured from 1936 to 2006 and installed on the legendary “Beetles”! This engine has a power of only 50 hp, but is very economical, which allows the Shahed 136 to cover a long distance. MD550 could be bought even on AliExpress until recently.
A low-power engine means a low speed, namely 180 km/h. And this, in turn, leads to the fact that the air alarms that are announced during the Shahed 136 attack are so long. To get from Crimea to Bila Tserkva, drones need about 3 hours, and in windy weather, like yesterday, even more.
It would seem that such not very fast targets are easy prey for air defense, and our defenders are already massively destroying the attacking Shahed 136. But there are some problems. First, these UAVs are used in flocks of 5-10 pieces. Each launcher in a standard car container contains 5 drones. It is extremely difficult to shoot down all UAVs in a swarm. In addition, the Shahed 136 are quite small, have a composite structure and operate at low altitudes, which makes them difficult to detect with the help of radars.
In addition, hitting a small and cheap drone with a very expensive anti-aircraft missile, of which there are really not enough, is a waste. Light anti-aircraft systems of the FIM-92 Stinger type, Piorun or Starstreak would be a solution, but they cannot cover all objects throughout Ukraine. Another solution to combat such threats is multi-barreled rapid-fire anti-aircraft artillery systems, such as the ZSU-23-4 Shilka or the German Gepard. But again, they will not be able to cover everything, especially since such systems are needed directly at the front edge. Therefore, the Air Defense Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine must find other ways.
And judging by the fact that of the 12 Shahed 136 that attacked Ukraine on the night of October 5, 6 UAVs were shot down, a partial solution to this problem was found in air defense.
But you should not underestimate the Shahed 136. Despite its small size and weak engine, these UAVs carry a powerful warhead weighing 40-50 kg, operate in flocks at low altitudes, and there are a lot of them. Unlike the missiles, which the Russians seem to have begun to save.
All parts of downed Shahed 136 / Geran-2 carefully are studied by the Ukrainian military and probably by Western experts. Hopefully, they will find control over these “shaheed” mopeds.
And readers, as always, are advised not to ignore air alarm signals, no matter how long they last now. Take care, because Ukraine needs every Ukrainian!
Specifications of Shahed 136 / Geran-2
Length – 3.5 m;
Wingspan – 2.5 m;
Weight – 200 kg;
Engine – Mado MD550 or 3W;
Power — 50 hp. (37 kW);
Flight range — 1,000 km;
Maximum flight range — up to 2,500 km;
Cruising speed – 185 km/h;
Flight height – 60-4,000 m;
Main armament — high-explosive fragmentation, weighing 40-50 kg