Ukraine Situation Report: New Details On Russia’s Plans To Build Iranian Drones

Russia aims to improve on dated Iranian manufacturing practices and increase the Shahed 136’s range and flexibility while building thousands.

byHoward Altman|
Russia is building a factory to construct domestically produced Shahed-136 drones
( Photo by YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP via Getty Images)


The Washington Post on Thursday revealed new details about a Russian plan to domestically manufacture Iranian Shahed-136 drones. Russia is trying to improve on Iran's dated manufacturing techniques and is exploring ways to introduce swarming technology as well.

However, the process is at least month behind schedule already, the Post reported.

The drones will be built in a facility 500 miles east of Moscow in the Tatarstan region. The goal is to “domestically build 6,000 drones by summer 2025."

If it succeeds, "the sprawling new drone factory could help Russia preserve its dwindling supply of precision munitions, thwart Ukraine’s effort to retake occupied territory and dramatically advance Moscow’s position in the drone arms race that is remaking modern warfare.”

The existence of the factory and the cooperation between Russia and Iran is not new. But the Post said the leaked documents it obtained "provide new information" that "despite delays and a production process that is deeply reliant on foreign-produced electronic components, Moscow has made steady progress toward its goal of manufacturing a variant  the Iranian Shahed-136, an attack drone capable of traveling more than 1,000 miles."

Russia's use of Iranian drones has created widespread destruction across Ukraine. It began in earnest last Fall and continued throughout the winter, hitting critical power infrastructure and into this year. Just yesterday, a Ukrainian port on the Danube River were hit by a Shahed-136 drone attack.

The documents show that the facility’s engineers "are trying to improve on Iran’s dated manufacturing techniques, using Russian industrial expertise to produce the drones on a larger scale than Tehran has achieved and with greater quality control."

The engineers also are exploring" improvements to the drone itself, including making it capable of swarm attacks in which the UAVs autonomously coordinate a strike on a target." The Post story offers no further details about Russia's swarming technology plans, how feasible they actually are, or how complex a concept they are trying to achieve.

So far, the Russian plant "has reassembled drones provided by Iran but has itself manufactured only drone bodies, and probably for not more than 300 of the UAVs," researchers at the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security told the publication. The factory is unlikely to meet its target date for the 6,000 drones, they said.

Still, the plan has troubling implications for Ukraine.

“Russia has a credible way of building over the next year or so a capability to go from periodically launching tens of imported Shahed-136 kamikaze drones against Ukrainian targets to more regularly attacking with hundreds of them,” David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector who helped lead the research team that studied the documents, told the Post.

Before we head into the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage of the war here.

The Latest

Ukraine claims it downed two more Russian Ka-52 Alligator attack helicopters, one near Robytyne in Zaporizhzhia Oblast and one near Bakhmut in Donetsk Oblast.

The 47th Mechanized Brigade stated on its Telegram channel Thursday that it shot down a Ka-52 near Robotyne with a man-portable air defense system (MANPADS). The video below, obtained by the Kyiv Post, purports to show the aftermath of the Robotyne shutdown. As the wreckage burns, two additional Russian helicopters approach the crash site. One lands and troops disembark while the other apparently keeps overwatch.

The Ka-52 shot down in Robotyne may have provided the first visual evidence of the RBS 70 man-portable air defense system (MANPADS) being used on the battlefield. The system has a laser beam-riding guidance system, allowing the operator to direct the missile to the target via a laser on the launcher and a laser receiver on the back of the missile.

There have been several claims that Ukraine has used the RBS 70 system before. The 47th Mechanized Brigade hinted that it used one in July to take down a Russian Su-25 Frogfoot close air support jet. And in May, the Ukrainian Armed Forces claimed they'd already used the RBS 70 to down "Russian cruise missiles and Iranian-made kamikaze drones."

But neither of those claims included any video or other visual verification. Video purporting to be from near Robotyne may have been the first time the RBS 70's Bolide missile was seen in action in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian In Factum Telegram channel on Thursday posted a video it says was "probably" the system being used.

A highly magnified screencap shows the same apparent shape and distinctive midsection fins as the Bolide, a modified version of the RBS 70 projectile manufactured by SAAB.

A video screencap of what is reportedly a missile fired by a MANPADS at a Russian Ka-52 attack helicopter near Robotyne (In Factum screencap)
The SAAB Bolide short-range, ground-based air defense missile fired by the RBS 70 MANPADS (SAAB image)

Regardless of how it was shot down, Ukrainian military officials say that the Ka-52 downed near Robotyne was one of two its forces eliminated Thursday.

Mykola Oleshchuk, the commander of the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, reported another Ka-52 “was destroyed in Bakhmut direction this morning,” the Kyiv Post reported. “I thank a unit of anti-aircraft missile forces of the Air Force for the successful combat work.”

However, unlike in Robotyne, there was no visual evidence to accompany that claim.

So far, Russia has lost at least 41 Ka-52s according to the Oryx open-source tracking group. Of those, 37 have been destroyed, three damaged and one captured. The actual number of lost aircraft is likely higher, because Oryx only counts those for which it has visual confirmation.

You can read more about the huge role the Alligators have played in helping Russia defend against the ongoing counteroffensive in our story here.

Yesterday, we told you that Ukraine captured the Donetsk Oblast town of Urozhaine. Today, video emerged showing Ukrainian troops clearing out Russian position dug into earthen berms off of a roadway near the outskirts of that town.

Germany on Thursday announced a new tranche of military aid to Ukraine that includes two new IRIS-T SLS air defense launchers, eight PzH 2000 self-propelled howitzers for spare parts, 10 GO12 ground surveillance radars, 4.359 155mm smoke rounds, four HX81 Tank Transporters and eight trucks.

Czech Defense Minister Jana Černochová on Thursday hinted that its fleet of Mi-24V/35 helicopters it is getting rid of in favor of U.S. rotary wing assets might be bound for Ukraine.

"Even though we symbolically say goodbye to them today, their story certainly doesn't end. We will certainly find the use for these helicopters,” she said, according to the Czech CT24 news outlet. “That is all I have to say about this, because I do not comment on supplies to Ukraine on principle.”

She did not say how many Mi-24V/35s were being retired.

Černochová’s comments came after a ceremony marking delivery of the first UH-1Y Venom utility helicopter to the Czech Republic. All told, the Czech Republic will eventually receive 20 H-1 series helicopters — 10 AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters and 10 Venoms. Hellfire and Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) air-to-ground guided weapons, unguided rockets, and ammunition for cannons and machine guns, will also be provided. You can read more about that in our story here.

Belarusian President Alexandr Lukashenko on Thursday said his patron Vladimir Putin was not trying to push him into a war with Ukraine.

"To involve Belarus ... what will that give? Nothing," said Lukashenko in an interview with Diana Panchenko, a pro-Russian Ukrainian journalist, according to a translation provided by Reuters.

"If you Ukrainians do not cross our border, we will never participate in this war. In this hot war. But we will always help Russia - they are our allies," he said.

He also claimed he was given no advance warning by Putin that he was going to invade Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, according to a transition by Anton Gerashchenko.

Almost 15 months after its last fighters surrendered at the Azov Steel Plant in Mariupol, the Azov Brigade of Ukraine's National Guard is again carrying out military operations at the front, Col. Mykola Urshalovych said during a briefing at the Military Media Center on Aug. 17, according to the Kyiv Independent.

"The Special Operations Brigade 'Azov' has recovered and begun carrying out combat tasks in the area of the Serebrianskyi forest," the National Guard officer said.

On Aug. 15, the brigade's artillery destroyed a Russian mortar and a vehicle near the Serebrianskyi forest in Luhansk Oblast, Urshalovych said.

Kyiv exchanged around 200 captured soldiers for pro-Russian politician Viktor Medvechuk last September, according to the Kyiv Independent. Separately, five top commanders of the Azovstal's defense were exchanged for 55 Russian prisoners and sent to Turkey.

You can read more about the harrowing fight inside the steel plant in our exclusive interview with one of the men there at the time.

A 23-year-old Odesa resident seeking “quick money” was arrested in Kyiv for trying to collect information about the location of military repair facilities so they could be hit by airstrikes, the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) announced Thursday

In addition, the man, accused of working for the Russian GRU intelligence service, also passed along information about the location of power substations in Kyiv.

The unnamed man now faces life in prison on treason charges.

“According to the investigation, the GRU was hoping that while conducting reconnaissance their agent would be able to spot locations of Ukrainian air defense systems near the energy facilities,” the SSU said. “The occupiers needed the intelligence to prepare a series of targeted air strikes on Kyiv and nearby settlements.”

The SSU claimed it “detained the suspect ‘red-handed’ when he was recording a video of a Ukrainian military base and referencing its GPS coordinates to an electronic map.”

The man was recruited by the GRU after posting his resume online seeking jobs, the SSU said.

Ukraine's 3rd Assault Brigade released a video showing its troops advancing on Russian positions through a forest near Bakhmut. They fire numerous rounds as they move through the woods, until they come upon some Russians they take prisoner.

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The Mk-19 40mm automatic grenade launcher is a fearsome weapon any time of day. But you can see it in action at night in this video, showing Ukrainian special operations forces using one against Russian troops in the Zaporizhzhia Oblast sector of the front. In this video below, a night vision-enabled camera shows the flash of the Mk-19s launching multiple grenades before the scene cuts those rounds landing on Russian troops.

The all-out war in Ukraine is the most intensely recorded conflict in human history, with everyone possessing cell phones with which to collect video and images from the battlefield. In the case of this Russian soldier, sometimes people capture things by surprise. Reportedly, while filming the front, he caught a Ukrainian artillery round blow up an armored vehicle. You can hear the sound of the incoming round then see the resulting explosion on the video below.

In the age of drone warfare, it's hard to hide. Such was the case of this Russian transport truck, reportedly spotted by a Ukrainian surveillance drone. The drone directed artillery fire, which destroyed the truck.

And finally, a Ukrainian soldier has produced his own version of the viral Bentley-themed ASMR spoof video created by U.S. Army Staff Sergent Tyler Butterworth. In this case, the Ukrainian soldier uses a domestically-made KrAZ truck instead of a Humvee.

That's it for now. We'll update this story when there's more news to report about Ukraine.

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