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HESA Shahed 136

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The HESA Shahed 136 (Persian: شاهد ۱۳۶, literally “Witness 136”), or Geran-2 (Russian: Герань-2, literally “Geranium-2”) in Russian service, is an Iranian loitering munition in the form of an autonomous pusher-prop drone. It is designed and manufactured by HESA in assocation with Shahed Aviation Industries.
The munition is designed to attack ground targets from a distance, fired in multiples from a launch rack (in batches of five upwards) to overwhelm air defenses by consuming their resources during the attack. The first public footage of the drone was released in December 2021.

Shahed 136 side view

Overview #

Description #

The aircraft has a cropped delta-wing shape, with a central fuselage blending into the wings and stabilizing rudders at the tips. The nose section contains a warhead estimated to weigh 30–50 kilograms (66–110 lb). The engine sits in the rear of the fuselage and drives a two-bladed pusher propeller. The munition is 3.5 metres (11 ft) long with a wingspan of 2.5 metres (8.2 ft), flies at over 185 kilometres per hour (115 mph), and weighs about 200 kilograms (440 lb). Range has been estimated to be anywhere from between 970–1,500 km (600–930 mi) to as much as 2,000–2,500 km (1,200–1,600 mi). The U.S. Army unclassified worldwide equipment guide states that the Shahed 136 design supports an aerial reconnaissance option, although no cameras were noted in the Geran-2 in Russian service.
A British report presented to the United Nations Security Council states that a version of the Shahed 136 was used in 2023 against moving vessels in the Gulf of Oman, which required a sensor to lock onto the moving target, and possibly real time communications of sensor data to an operator. An Iridium satellite phone SIM card was found in the debris, indicating possible control beyond line of sight.

Deployment #

Because of the portability of the launch frame and drone assembly, the entire unit can be mounted on the back of any military or commercial truck.
The aircraft is launched at a slight upward angle and is assisted in initial flight by rocket launch assistance (RATO). The rocket is jettisoned immediately after launch, whereupon the drone’s conventional Iranian-made Mado MD-550 four-cylinder piston engine (possibly a reverse-engineered German Limbach L550E, also used in other Iranian drones such as the Ababil-3) takes over.

Comms and guidance system #

December 2023 remains from the drones were found with SIMs and 4G modems of the type used in mobile phones.

Electronics #

Despite no markings, experts believe the munition uses a computer processor manufactured by the American company Altera, RF modules by Analog Devices and LDO chips by Microchip Technology.
Inspection of captured drones used by Russia during the 2022 invasion of Ukraine revealed that some Shahed-136 electronics were manufactured from foreign made components, such as a Texas Instruments TMS320 processor, a Polish made fuel pump on behalf of UK-based company TI Fluid Systems and a voltage converter from China.
The Jewish Chronicle reported that dual-use technologies through British universities are used in development.
In December 2023, the Ukrainian National Agency on Corruption Prevention stated that the Russian-produced Geran-2 included 55 parts made in the United States, 15 from China, 13 from Switzerland, and 6 from Japan.

Confusion with Shahed 131 #

It is visually similar to the smaller Shahed 131, differing mainly by its wingtip stabilisers extending up and down rather than only up on the Shahed 131. The Shahed 131 has a simple inertial navigation system (INS) and a GPS with some electronic warfare protection, which the Shahed 136 may also have.

Geran-2 #

See also: Iran and the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine
Geran-2 is the name of the munition in Russian service. The Geran-2 may use additional steering methods compared to the standard Iranian Shahed 136. A The Times of Israel correspondent notes that the Iranian navigation system made from civilian components has been replaced with a Russian manufactured flight control unit and microprocessors, using the Russian GLONASS GNSS system rather than U.S. civilian grade GPS, seemingly improving its loitering munition capability. Geran-2 has labeling and paint color matching Russian rather than Iranian munitions. No cameras or short-range sensors were noted.
By November 2022 Russia and Iran had agreed to the Russian manufacture of the munition, with Iran exporting key components. The Russian manufacturing facility is in the Alabuga Special Economic Zone, Tatarstan, with a target of building 6,000 Geran-2s by summer 2025.
In July 2023, UK based Conflict Armament Research studied the remains of two Geran-2s used in Ukraine, concluding they were a new variant manufactured in Russia. They found “major differences in the airframe construction and in the internal units” compared to earlier examples studied, including a fuselage now made of fiberglass over woven carbon fiber rather than lightweight honeycomb. A third of the components showed manufacturing dates from 2020 to 2023, and three Russian components showed dates from January to March 2023. Twelve components showed dates after the start of the invasion in February 2022. Some internal modules were the same as in other Russian weapon systems, including the Kometa satellite navigation module.
The Russian-manufactured Geran-2 is believed to have a “state-of-art antenna interference suppression” system that suppresses jamming of the GNSS position signal, designed by Iran using seven transceivers for input and an FPGA and three microcontrollers to analyse and suppress any electronic warfare emissions.
Various colloquial terms have been used for these munitions such as “mopeds” or “lawnmowers”, alluding to the loud sound of their engine in flight, and “doritos” in reference to their delta-winged silhouette.

Shahed 238 #

Main article: Shahed 238
In September 2023, a trailer for an Iranian state TV documentary on Iranian drone development revealed the existence of a Shahed 136 version powered by a turbojet engine. Jet propulsion would give the one-way attack UAV greater speed and altitude, making it more difficult to intercept compared to the propeller-driven version, a large percentage of which have been able to be shot down in Ukraine by anti-aircraft cannons and even small arms. It also has a nose-mounted camera which could improve navigation or enable terminal guidance. A jet version would be more expensive and complex to manufacture, have reduced range, and have a larger thermal signature making it vulnerable to infrared-guided missiles. The jet-powered strike drone was publicly unveiled on 20 November 2023 as the Shahed 238.

Combat history #

2014 Yemeni Civil War #

The drone has reportedly been used by the Houthis in the Yemeni Civil War during 2020.
There were some reports of its use in the 2019 attack of Saudi oil plants at Abqaiq and Khurais, however The Washington Post reported that other types of drone were used in that attack. A British report to the United Nations Security Council states that a Shahed 131 was used, not a 136.

2022 Russian war in Ukraine #

See also: Iran and the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine
During the 2022 war in Ukraine, Russia has used loitering munitions bearing the name Geran-2 (Russian: Герань-2, literally “Geranium-2”) against Ukraine. These Geran-2 drones are considered by Ukraine and its Western allies to be redesignated Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones.
In the months prior to the confirmation of their use, US intelligence sources and Ukrainian officials have claimed that Iran had supplied Russia with several hundred drones including Shahed-136s, although Iran has repeatedly rejected the claims that it had sent drones for use in Ukraine, saying it is neutral in the war. . However, on 2 September 2022 the Commander of the IRGC General Hossein Salami said at a Tehran arms show that “some major world powers” had purchased Iranian military equipment and his men were “training them to employ the gear”. Russia stated it uses unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) of domestic manufacture. This may reflect domestic production of these drones within Russia.
On 21 November 2022, a British government minister stated that the number of Shahed-136 loitering munitions used in Ukraine was estimated to be in the low hundreds. In May 2023, the White House National Security Council spokesman suggested roughly 400 had been used so far, saying “Iran has provided Russia with more than 400 UAVs primarily of the Shahed variety”.

First appearances #

Part of a drone shot down near Kupiansk, Kharkiv Oblast, in September 2022 and considered by Ukraine and various experts to be an Iranian made Shahed 136
On 13 September 2022, initial use of the Shahed 136 was indicated by photos of the remains of a drone inscribed with Russian: Герань-2, lit. ’Geranium’-2, operated by Russian forces. According to Rodion Kulahin, the Ukrainian artillery commander of the 92nd Brigade, Shahed 136 drones destroyed four howitzers and two BTRs during the Kharkiv counter-offensive. On 23 September, further use of the drones was recorded in Odesa, where videos of their flyover and subsequent impact were uploaded on various Telegram channels. Notably, the drones were audibly engaged with small arms fire, which did not seem to have shot down any of the aircraft. On 25 September, videos posted on social media shows intensified use of the drone by the Russian forces around Odesa and Dnipro cities. This time, along with small arms, some form of anti-aircraft rotary cannon was employed, along with surface-to-air missiles, downing at least one Geran-2. A number of the drones were able to hit unknown targets, although there are claims the Ukrainian Navy Headquarters in Odesa was hit.
On 5 October 2022, a Geran-2 struck barracks hosting soldiers from the 72nd Mechanized Brigade in Bila Tserkva.
Ukrainian soldiers claim they can be heard from several kilometers away and are vulnerable to small arms fire.
Ukrainian sources stated they deployed MiG-29 fighter aircraft to shoot down these drones with success, claiming that they used a similar strategy to shoot down cruise missiles such as the Kalibr. However, on 13 October 2022, a Ukrainian MiG-29 crashed in Vinnytsia while attempting to shoot down a Geran-2. According to Ukrainian sources, one version of the incident is that the drone detonated near the jet and shrapnel struck the cockpit which forced the pilot to eject.

October waves #

Geran-2 drones participated in the October 2022 missile strikes that disabled large sections of the Ukrainian power grid. Ukraine’s military said it shot down the first Shahed 136 on September 13, and that 46 of the drones were launched on October 6, 24 on October 10, and 47 on October 17.
In the morning of 17 October Kyiv was attacked again. The drones were engaged by small-caliber ground fire as well as dedicated air-defense systems, but the drones reportedly hit several locations, including the offices of Ukrenergo. Other energy infrastructure facilities were also reported to be attacked, leading to blackouts around the affected infrastructure. Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said the strikes hit critical energy infrastructure in three regions, knocking out electricity to hundreds of towns and villages. At least 8 people were killed during the day’s attack.
The cost-benefit analysis of using these drones in strikes versus the defending air defense systems is in favor of the Shahed drones, being about half the cost of the defenses employed against them, such as emplaced SAM systems. Loitering munitions downed after they have reached cities can lead to large-scale collateral damage from falling wreckage. The average Shahed drone is worth about $20,000. An IRIS-T missile is worth about $430,000 in comparison. From 13 September until 17 October, it has been estimated that Ukraine has spent $28.14 million on defences against these drones.
The US Department of Defense has stated that a number of Iranian experts were deployed to Crimea to provide technical support for the drones used in the attacks.
Ukrainian sources claim that more than 220 of these drones were shot down since 13 September.
In December use of the munitions resumed after a three-week pause. Ukraine suggested the suspension was to modify them for cold weather, but the British Ministry of Defence stated it was likely due to the exhaustion of previous stock followed by a resupply. On 14 December, a Shahed-136 drone that exploded in Kyiv had “For Ryazan“ written on in Russian, a reference to attacks on the Dyagilevo air base in Ryazan.

Russian modifications #

As of late September 2023, Russian forces have started packing warheads with tungsten ball shrapnel. Given that they are now manufacturing their own Shaheds Russian modifications include “new warheads (tungsten shrapnel), engines, batteries, servomotors and bodies”, according to Ukrainian officials who research such weapons. The use of tungsten shrapnel is similar to the warhead on HIMARS GMLRS.

Ukrainian counter efforts #

The drones are too slow, fly too low and are too small to be detected by MiG-29 radar. One Ukrainian pilot described the drone’s radar picture as similar to a truck on a road. Ukrainian R-73 missiles don’t work in cloud cover. Thus, Ukrainian aircraft can only intercept these drones using their 30mm cannon. Even with guns, the risk of damage to their own aircraft limits such approaches.
Night interceptions are even harder as pilots have to rely on GPS to know whether they are over a population centre, lest a crashing drone cause collateral damage to civilian areas. In most cases all the pilots can do is contact ground based air defences to intercept these drones.
Ukraine’s Air Force also believe that the drones are used to test the effectiveness of defences prior to missile attacks, to probe for weaknesses. Ukrainian pilot Vadym Voroshylov was credited with downing 5 Shahed drones in a week. However the explosion of the final drone downed his own MiG-29. Ukraine claims an interception rate of “65% and 85%”.
A Ukrainian defense attaché in the United States stated that SA-8 missiles and both the Soviet-era ZSU-23-4 and the German-supplied Flakpanzer Gepard SPAAGs have been used to “great effect” against these “relatively crude” drones.
In early November 2022, Forbes reported on Ukrainian efforts to seek “Shahed catchers.” Because legacy anti-aircraft weapons are less suited to intercepting swarms of cheap drones, various dedicated counter-UAS systems are being acquired. One is the Anvil made by Anduril Industries, which uses a suite of sensors powered by the company’s AI Lattice system to detect and track threats then passes information to Anvil interceptors, which weigh 12 lb (5.4 kg) and have backwards-facing propellers to ram into a target at over 100 mph (160 km/h). Another is the NiDAR made by MARSS, which has a similar networked sensor package and uses ducted fan quadcopter interceptors that have a top speed of more than 170 mph (270 km/h). There are also domestic Ukraine options such as the Fowler. All systems are similar in that they use a large number of small interceptors to be able to counter drones launched en-masse simultaneously approaching from different directions.
DShK machine guns fitted with thermal imaging or cameras are among the most cost effective weapons for shooting down these drones. Some are working with searchlights like during World War 2.

Reactions #

In response to the initial attacks, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has denounced it as “a collaboration with evil”. Diplomatic ties between Iran and Ukraine were subsequently reduced as a consequence of the attacks.
On 18 October 2022 the U.S. State Department accused Iran of violating United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231 by selling drones to Russia, agreeing with similar assessments by France and the United Kingdom. On 22 October France, Britain and Germany formally called for an investigation by the UN team responsible for UNSCR 2231. Iran’s ambassador to the UN responded that these accusations were an erroneous interpretation of paragraph 4 of annex B of the resolution, which clearly states it applies to items that “could contribute to the development of nuclear weapon delivery systems”, which these drones could not. Resolution 2231 was adopted after the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was signed. The U.S. withdrew from the agreement under the Donald Trump administration in 2018. The embargo on conventional Iranian arms ended in October 2020, but the restrictions on Iran regarding missiles and related technologies are in place until October 2023.
An Iranian Major-General said 22 countries requested to purchase Iranian drones.
Multiple critics including a senior researcher of the Center for Security Studies called the weapon tactically useless, and said that its role is as a weapon of terror against civilians. Others said it can be used to carried out devastating strikes to Ukrainian forces but are unlikely to be a game-changer for the war.
Iran denied sending arms for use in the Ukraine war and Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said Iran will not remain indifferent if it is proven that Russia used Iranian drones in the war against Ukraine. On 5 November 2022, Abdollahian said Iran shipped “a small number” of drones to Russia before the war. He repeated Iran will not remain indifferent if proven Russia used Iranian drones against Ukraine. He denounced Ukraine for not showing up at talks to discuss evidence of Russian use of Iranian drones. Iran foreign ministry continued to deny sending weapons for use in the war.

2022 Syria #

The U.S. military believes groups allied to Iran used the Shahed 136 in August 2022 against a U.S.-run military base at Al-Tanf in Syrian opposition controlled territory in the Syrian Desert.

2022 Iraqi Kurdistan #

See also: September–October 2022 attacks on Iraqi Kurdistan
In 2022, the IRGC Ground Forces used the Shahed 136 drone in attacks on headquarters of Kurdish separatist group in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.

2023 Indian Ocean #

Main article: 2023 attack on the Chem Pluto
On 24 November, it was suspected that an Iranian Shahed 136 attacked the CMA CGM Symi in the Indian Ocean according to a US defense official. The attack caused damage to the ship but did not injure any of the crew.

Classification controversy #

The classification of the Shahed 136 as a loitering munition has been disputed due to an apparent lack of loitering capability. In January 2023, the Royal United Services Institute, a British defense and security think tank, called into question the classification of the Shahed 136 as a loitering munition. RUSI noted that the Shahed 136 had mainly been used for point-to-point suicide missions similar to cruise missiles, rather than loitering around a target area before striking a target. However, RUSI also stated that the Shahed 136 may have been used during the attacks on the MT Mercer Street and Pacific Zircon, hinting at the existence of a loitering munition variant even if the original Shahed 136 does not have that capability. An Oil Companies International Marine Forum report assessing the Shahed 136 attacks on those ships stated that the wreckage of the drones used in the attacks did not produce any sensors or a laser seeking equipment found on traditional loitering munitions. However, the report also noted, based on photographic evidence, that the drone that struck the Pacific Zircon was equipped with a GNSS antenna.

Operators #

Dark blue: Countries operating Shahed-136. Light blue: non-state operators (Houthis)
In September 2023, the president of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi, denied providing the drones to Russia for use in Ukraine.

  •  Iran
  •  Houthis (alleged)
  •  Russia

The drones will also be foreign produced at Gomel, Belarus and in the drone factory in Yelabuga.



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