An upgraded version of the infamous Iranian-designed Shahed kamikaze drones could be an unwelcome newcomer to the battlefield above Ukraine, as Russia works to grind down Kyiv’s air defenses.

On Monday, Ukrainian media reported that the first Shahed-238 kamikaze uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV) had been shot down in Ukraine, citing an influential military blogger from the country. There has been no confirmation of this from the Ukrainian Air Force.

Newsweek has reached out to the Ukrainian military and Russia’s defense ministry for comment via email.

Although its presence in Ukraine has not been verified, it is “certainly possible,” according to military and weapons expert David Hambling.

Tehran unveiled the Shahed-238 jet-powered drone in November 2022, debuting the upgraded version of the Shahed-136. Ukraine is already using jet-powered versions of its own kamikaze drones.

Confirmed information about the Shahed-238 is scarce. However, it is likely to be faster, meaning Ukraine will find it more difficult to shoot down the 238 compared with its predecessors, Hambling told Newsweek. A faster Shahed is harder to track with machine guns or cannons, and Kyiv’s air defenses have a shorter window to detect the drone before it reaches its target.

Iranian-designed Shahed drones have been a constant feature of the nearly two-year-old war since its early days. The Shahed-131 and larger -136 have offered Russia a cheap, but often effective, way to strike Ukrainian infrastructure and cities without using up missile stockpiles.

Ukraine can typically shoot down the slow-moving kamikaze drones, and has high success rates for intercepting the incoming UAVs before they strike their targets. But detecting them is often the biggest challenge.

Also known as Geran drones, they are known for their distinctive, low, buzzing sound, and are capable of carrying a warhead that shatters or explodes when it reaches the intended target. They are most difficult for air defenses to contend with when they come in large numbers.

Kyiv military officials said in late November that Russia had started sending modified versions of the Shaheds over Ukrainian territory. The new versions were darker and made of carbon fiber, making them harder for Ukrainian air defenses to pick up.

Shortly after the Shahed-238 was revealed, Ukrainian Air Force spokesperson Colonel Yuriy Ihnat, suggested the drones would have a different radar guidance system and the darker, matte color would make visual detection harder.

The new Shahed-238 drones, despite the issues they would pose for Ukrainian air defenses, will also be more expensive than previous iterations, Hambling suggested. “For the Russians, there will be a calculus of producing fewer drones with a greater chance of getting through or flooding the defenses with lower-cost drones, which are likely to get intercepted,” he said.

As winter drew in, Ukraine’s military reported increased numbers of overnight Shahed drone strikes, as Western analysts had anticipated. Ukraine’s air force has reported several waves of Shahed drone strikes across the country since the beginning of 2024.

Kyiv is “developing anti-Shahed solutions,” Mykhailo Fedorov, Kyiv’s minister of digital transformation, who is at the helm of the drone efforts against Moscow, told Newsweek in December, adding it was focusing on identifying incoming Shahed drones, while developing and producing its own long-range drones.

Source » newsweek