What are kamikaze drones? Russia, Ukraine use them in war

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Russia fell deep into Ukraine by hitting the capital Kiev with kamikaze drones — small airborne devices that can hit a target at a distance and are maneuverable enough to avoid much air defense.

Here’s what we know about the deadly planes and their role in the war.

What are kamikaze drones?

The drones that Russia has deployed, Ukrainian and US officials say, were manufactured in Iran, where they are known as Shahed-136s. They are designed to hit specific targets with explosives that can be delivered at ranges up to 1,500 miles.

Russia has renamed the Shahed-136 Geran-2. Iran denies giving Russia drones for use in its war against Ukraine.

The drones are part of a category of weapons known as loitering munitions — meaning they’re “designed to hover over battlefields,” looking for targets like radars, Ingvild Bode, an associate professor at the Center for War Studies , a research group within the University of Southern Denmark, previously told The Washington Post. “When they have found the target, [they] launch itself on it.” That’s why the term “kamikaze” is often applied to this and to weapons such as US-made Switchblade drones.

Because of the distinctive buzzing noises they make as they approach, Shahed-136s tend to be less destructive than precision missiles — civilians can see and hear them approaching, giving them more time to shelter from an explosion. And unlike large rockets, their blast radius is smaller and they don’t necessarily send shrapnel in all directions.

But they can also slip past Ukraine’s air defenses — or force the military to use its limited air defense assets to neutralize them before they can hit their target.

How does Russia use them?

Russian troops seeking an edge on the battlefield are increasingly using drones. US and allied officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss security issues, have told The Post that Iran has recently begun supplying the drones and other weapons to Russia and has sent technical advisers to train Russian forces in their use. . Pentagon officials have publicly confirmed the use of Iranian drones in Russian airstrikes.

Ukraine believes Russia has ordered as many as 2,400 kamikaze drones from Iran. In response, Kiev has urged its allies to send advanced air defense systems.

Iran plans to send missiles and drones to Russia for war in Ukraine, officials say

Russia has largely used kamikaze drones to attack military and infrastructure targets in southern Ukraine. According to the British Ministry of Defense, troops first deployed the Shahed-136 in northeastern Ukraine in September. In an intelligence update, the ministry argued that the use of the weapons near the front lines suggested “Russia is trying to use the system to launch tactical strikes rather than against more strategic targets further in Ukrainian territory.”

Since mid-September, Ukrainian forces have claimed to have shot down Iranian-made drones in various parts of Ukraine. During a video conference with leaders of the Group of Seven last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said: “Every 10 minutes I receive a message about the use of Iranian Shaheds by the enemy.”

Photos: The moment when kamikaze drones hit the center of Kiev

This has led Kiev to lower its diplomatic relations with Tehran. Zelensky called the Russia-Iran partnership “cooperation with evil”, while Tehran accused Kiev of overreacting based on “unconfirmed reports” and “media hype by foreign parties”.

The drones were first used on Monday to attack central Kiev in what appeared to be an attempt to attack a thermal power station that supplies the capital. At least four people were killed in the blast, officials said. Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior advisor to Zelensky, accused Iran of being “responsible for the murders of Ukrainians”.

Russia hit Kiev with kamikaze drones on October 17, a week after it carried out deadly attacks across Ukraine. (Video: The Washington Post)

How does Ukraine use them?

The United States has promised to send Ukraine more than 700 of its own kamikaze drones called Switchblades and trained some Ukrainian soldiers in their use in April.

With its thin body and ruler-shaped wings, the Switchblade drone looks different from the Shahed-136, which looks like a miniature delta-winged fighter plane. But the idea behind the two weapons is the same: have an operator take out a target with deadly efficiency and dodge detection and air defenses.

Ukraine has also deployed Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drones, claiming to have destroyed many Russian military targets. That drone is so popular in Ukraine that a Ukrainian soldier released a song in his honor.

Separately, the Guardian newspaper reported that two Ukrainians raised $9.6 million last week to purchase Ukrainian RAM II drones, which can carry an explosive payload of more than 6½ pounds.

Joby Warrick, Ellen Nakashima and Shane Harris contributed to this report.

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