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Shahed drones

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Loitering Munition
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A Shahed Saegheh-2 variant
Shahed drones are unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) and loitering munitions (exploding kamikaze drones) developed by Iranian company Shahed Aviation Industries. The drones are made of commercial components.
“Shahed” translates from both Arabic and Persian to “witness.”

List of models #

Remains of a Shahed 123
Models include the following (in numeric order):

  • Shahed 107
  • Shahed 121
  • Shahed 123
  • Shahed 125
  • Shahed 129
  • Shahed 131 (also called “Geran-1” in Russian service)
  • Shahed 133
  • HESA Shahed 136 (also called “Geran-2” in Russian service)
  • Shahed 141
  • Shahed 147
  • Shahed 149 Gaza
  • Shahed 161
  • Shahed 171 Simorgh
  • Shahed 178
  • Shahed 191 (also called “Shahed Saegheh”), with two variants:
    • Shahed Saegheh-1
    • Shahed Saegheh-2
  • Shahed 197
  • Shahed 238

Development #

The drones are developed by Shahed Aviation Industries. Despite international sanctions against Iran, the drones are made of commercial parts from companies headquartered in the United States, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, Canada, Japan, and Poland. Due to their commercial availability, the components are poorly regulated or uncontrolled, and according to a Ukrainian report submitted to the G7, the parts are imported to Iran from Turkey, India, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Costa Rica. Allegedly, every drone manufactory plant in Iran has two replacement sites to ensure production is not disrupted in the event of an aerial attack.
On 5 December 2011, the Iranian government seized an American Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel UAV, which had been commandeered and brought down by Iran’s cyberwarfare unit. Shahed Aviation Industries then reverse-engineered the American UAV, and used the acquired knowledge to develop the Shahed 171 Simorgh and Shahed 191 (Shahed Saegheh).
During the seventy-eighth session of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2023, the United States accused Iran of supplying Russia with drones during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and aiding Russia in the development of a drone production plant. Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi denied the allegations, responding, “We are against the war in Ukraine.” Months earlier, Sky News received purported document evidence dated 14 September 2022 from an informed source that Russia had purchased over US$1 million of artillery and tank shells and rockets. In June 2023, a U.S. intelligence finding released by the White House reported Iran was supplying Russia with materials to construct a drone manufacturing plant. In February 2024, additional document evidence was leaked revealing Russia’s purchases of drones and an arrangement for Iran to assist Russia in developing a manufacturing facility, both purchased for a total of US$1.75 billion, paid in gold ingots.
According to the document submitted to the G7, the Iranian government is trying to “disassociate itself from providing Russia with weapons” and that “[it] cannot cope with Russian demand and the intensity of use in Ukraine.” Consequently, the Yelabuga drone factory was established in Alabuga Special Economic Zone, part of the Republic of Tatarstan, an autonomous region of Russia, more than 1,300 km (810 mi) from the Russia–Ukraine border. The manufactory is next to the Kama River, permitting transportation by ship directly from Iran via the Caspian Sea. Russia aims to build 6,000 UCAVs by summer 2025 at a rate of 310 drones per month if the factory operates 24 hours a day, predicting the cost of production of one Geran-2 to be US$48,000. The company Albatross operates the factory, where students from Alabuga Polytechnic College, some as young as 15 years old, are employed to construct the combat drones.
In a 2 April 2024 attack, Ukraine launched an improvised long-range loitering munition targeting and damaging Russia’s drone production facility, allegedly causing “significant damage.”

Ukraine #

On 8 May 2024, the head of the state-owned Ukrainian Defense Industry said Ukraine was producing domestic drones identical to the Shahed 131 and Shahed 136 “in terms of the amount of explosives they carry, their range, and other technical parameters.” He also claimed Ukrainian drone production achieved parity with Russian production.

Shahed 107 #

The Shahed 107 was revealed to Sky News by an anonymous security source in January 2024. It was described as a loitering munition with possible reconnaissance technologies, such as a live video feed. The source also reported it is about 2.5 m (8 ft 2 in) long and has a wingspan of 3 m (9.8 ft). The UCAV can be launched from a vehicle and is estimated to have a range of up to 1,500 km (930 mi). The source also told Sky News that Iran had offered “a few units” to Russia in a deal worth more than US$2 million.

Shahed 121 #

Shahed 121 in blue, and to the right, a Shahed 129 with redesigned radome
The Shahed 121 was first noticed in 2016 when it flew over the USS Harry S. Truman, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, in international airspace. The US Navy regarded this as a security breach which had not happened since 2014. The incident occurred after a nuclear deal that Iran signed with world powers, including the US. A US Navy Seahawk helicopter filmed the incident. The flight of Shahed 121 was considered by Iranian authorities to be safe as its wings were all “clean”, implying that the drone did not carry weapons and was not dangerous to ships, but the high command of the US Navy described it as “abnormal” and “unprofessional.”

Shahed 129 #

Main article: Shahed 129
The Shahed 129, sometimes S129, is an Iranian single-engine medium-altitude long-endurance UCAV designed for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. It is capable of combat and reconnaissance missions. It has an endurance of 24 hours; it is similar in size, shape, and role to the American MQ-1 Predator. The Shahed 129 has been used for airstrikes in the Syrian Civil War and for border patrol on Iran’s eastern border. As of 2017, the Shahed 129 and Shahed Saegheh are expected to form the backbone of Iran’s high-end UAV fleet for at least the next decade.

Shahed 131 (Geran-1) #

Main article: Shahed 131
The Shahed 131, also called Geran-1 (Russian: Герань-1, literally “Geranium-1”) in Russian service, came to prominence in October 2022 during the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It is powered by a Wankel engine model Shahed-783/788. The Shahed-131 flight control unit was found to be able to connect with Iridium satellites, which in theory allows the flight path to be altered mid-flight. The flight controller has a backup inertial navigation system by MEMS gyroscope. Its primary instructions are derived from a commercial-grade GPS unit.
The Shahed 131 is visually distinguished by vertical stabilisers that extend only upwards from the ends of the wings, while on the larger Shahed 136 they extend both up and down. It has a 15 kg (33 lb) warhead and has a range of 900 km (559 mi).

HESA Shahed 136 (Geran-2) #

Shahed 136 side view
Main article: HESA Shahed 136
The HESA Shahed 136, or simply Shahed 136, known also as the Geran-2 (Russian: Герань-2) in Russian service, is a loitering munition in the form of an autonomous pusher-prop UCAV. It is designed and manufactured by Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company, or HESA, in association with Shahed Aviation Industries. Its first appearance was 13 September 2022, when photos of the remains of a drone used by Russian forces during the invasion of Ukraine were publicly released. The wings were inscribed with “M412 Герань-2” (“M412 Geran-2” in Russian) as a means of disguising the drone and concealing Iran’s part in the invasion of Ukraine, but it was recognized by its wing design, and Geran-2 drones are considered by Ukraine and its Western allies to be redesignated Iranian-made Shahed 136 drones. Experts have estimated a Shahed 136 costs between US$20,000 to US$50,000 to make. A series of leaked emails and documents revealed Russia had purchased 6,000 Shahed 136s for US$193,000 each in 2023.
The drones were used in the October 2022 missile strikes on Kyiv

Shahed 147 #

The Shahed 147 is a twin-boom, high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) surveillance UAV powered by a turboprop engine. It possesses a wingspan of 26 m (85 ft) and a maximum flight altitude of 60,000 feet. The drone also possesses Synthetic Aperture Radar imaging for surveillance. The Shahed 147 was revealed during the 19 November 2023 Iranian Aerospace Force Exhibition, attended by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Shahed 149 Gaza #

Main article: Shahed 149 Gaza
The Shahed 149 Gaza was unveiled on 21 May 2021 and named after the Gaza Strip in honor of Palestinians’ struggle amid the 2021 Israel–Palestine crisis. The drone is a high-altitude, long-endurance UAV similar in size, shape and role to the American MQ-9 Reaper. It is a larger and heavier than the earlier Shahed 129. It has a flight duration of 24 hours, a maximum operating radius of 2,500 km (1,600 mi), 21 m (69 ft) wingspan, 340 km/h (210 mph) maximum speed and is capable of carrying 13 bombs and 500 kg (1,100 lb) of electronic equipment. It was the first Iranian UAV powered by a turboprop engine.

Shahed 171 Simorgh #

Shahed 171 Simorgh
Main article: Shahed 171 Simorgh
The Shahed 171 Simorgh, named after a benevolent bird of Persian mythology, and called IRN-170 by the US government, is a jet-powered flying wing UCAV. It is based on an American Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel UAV that was seized by Iran in 2011 and reverse-engineered.

Shahed 191 (Shahed Saegheh) #

Main article: Shahed Saegheh
The Shahed 191, also called the Shahed Saegheh, sometimes spelled “Saeqeh,” was first revealed at an Iranian arms expo in October 2016. The name comes from the Persian word for “thunderbolt.” Like the Shahed 171 Simorgh, the Shahed 191 is based on the seized Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel. The Shahed 191 has two variants, the Saegheh-1 and the Saegheh-2.

Saegheh-1 #

The Saegheh-1 is a flying wing UCAV powered by a turbofan and piston-engine. The drone can carry two Sadid-1 missiles externally, a combined payload weight of 50 kg (110 lb).

Saegheh-2 #

The Saegheh-2 is a jet-powered flying wing UCAV launched from a moving car. It can reportedly fly at a cruising speed of 300 km/h (190 mph) for just over 4.5 hours, and can travel a distance of at least 450 km (280 mi). The Saegheh-2 can carry two Sadid-1 missiles internally.

Shahed 238 #

Shahed 238
The Shahed 238 is a turbojet-powered loitering munition. In September 2023, a trailer for an Iranian state TV documentary on Iranian drone development revealed a new version of Shahed 136 powered by a jet engine. The new drone was publicly unveiled in November 2023 during an aerospace achievement exhibition organized by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which was attended by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Three variants were displayed in a black color scheme, though whether this is a radar-absorbent material or simply a paint scheme for night operations is unknown.
A Russian Major General claimed in an interview with Russian propaganda agency Sputnik that the Shahed 238 would be a new version of the Geran-2, and that it would capable of travelling at top speeds of 800 km/h (500 mph) during a dive. Iran, however, claims it can reach considerably lower top speeds of only 500 km/h (310 mph), powered by the Toloue-10 or Toloue-13 micro-turbojet 896 engine. Due to the new engine, compared to the HESA Shahed 136, there is less space available for fuel, presumably resulting in a reduced flight range and payload size.
The three Shahed 238 variants each had different guidance systems: one with basic GPS and GLONASS-based inertial navigation systems, as used in the Shahed 136, to hit fixed targets; electro-optical and infrared camera sensors for heat-seeking, with some reports suggesting the missiles could be directed by an operator using the video feed; and a radar-detection system to attack air defenses and other radars, allowing it to be used for Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses.

Operational history #

In early January 2024, evidence emerged to suggest Russia had launched at least one Shahed 238 in an offensive attack on Ukraine.
On 14 April 2024, Iran launched 185 Shahed 238s in an attack on Israel, none of which reached the country due to Israel’s and its allies’ air defenses.



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