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Source: Telegraph

Sep 30, 2023

New jet-powered version of Shahed drones used by Russia in Ukraine attacks unveiled by Iran

Upgraded unmanned aerial vehicles predicted to be faster but potentially with shorter range than predecessors

By Abbie Cheeseman IN BEIRUT

Iran has unveiled a new jet-powered version of the Shahed drone that Russia has used to attack Ukraine in the past year that promises to fly much faster than its predecessor.

The new version of the kamikaze drone, featured in the trailer of a documentary on state TV this week, features a jet engine instead of the piston engine and propeller of the original aircraft.

While many of the Shahed-136 drones used by Russia are shot down, exhausting Ukrainian air defences, they have caused devastation in Ukraine – often being used to target civilian infrastructure.

Iran's new jet-powered kamikaze drone hits its target during testingCREDIT: Safarnejad_IR / X

Experts believe that the new Shahed will fly significantly faster, making it more difficult to intercept, though a drawback could be a shorter range because of the amount of fuel it will consume.“It’s the sheer speed of Iran’s new jet-powered drone that should be of worry to the West and its allies,” said James Patton Rogers, the executive director at Cornell Brooks Tech Policy Institute. 

“The drone’s lightweight jet engine will allow the Shahed to bypass basic ground-based air defence, providing the system with an increased lethality.“The drone also reportedly has a new camera payload onboard, something the older Shahed does not.

This will likely allow for increased visual and responsive navigation and an increased precision strike capacity,” said Mr Patton Rogers, who advises Nato and the British Government on drone technology.

However, as well as being more expensive, jet power has operational drawbacks.

“The fuel consumption will be higher, limiting the range of the drone and the heat signature of the engine will open it to more advanced heat-seeking air defence systems,” Mr Patton Rogers said.

Damien Spleeters, a weapons expert, said that there was no indication that the new drone had been sent to Ukraine and warned against speculation with little information available.

“Our teams in Ukraine have not seen this new [jet-powered] drone yet,” Mr Spleeters, the deputy director at Conflict Armament Research, said. “If it is used [in Ukraine] and we get access to it we’ll be able to look at the components and construction like we have done with the previous Shaheds.”

It was not immediately clear whether the jet-powered Shaheds are in production yet or whether the documentary trailer was showing a test flight.

The Shahed-136 suicide drones currently being used in Ukraine have a range of up to 1,500 miles and a cruising speed of 111 mph.

While its cheap cost and simplicity have been a driving factor in the popularity of the propeller-powered Shahed drones, Iran unveiled micro turbo-jets for drones back in 2021, making it unsurprising that a variation of the Shahed would arrive at some point.

Iran has long denied – despite overwhelming evidence – selling drones to Russia for use in its war on Ukraine, but drone production is a cornerstone of foreign policy for the Revolutionary Guards, which supplies weapons to its proxy forces across the region and to Moscow.

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