They are not the most dangerous thing Russia is using against Ukraine in this war, but they are arguably one of the scariest. They are drones launched by Russia and made in Iran.
They are small… only about 9 feet by 9 feet.
They are relatively slow… they only travel about a hundred miles per hour.
And they make a lot of noise… like a lawnmower or a moped.
However, they can be shipped from a thousand miles away or more.
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When they hit something, the hundred plus pounds of explosives on board pack a punch. Hence their nickname, “kamikaze” drones, after the Japanese suicide pilots of World War II.
“These drones are very dangerous for us,” Ukrainian military intelligence officer “Vasily” told us, “they cause a lot of damage.”
Vasily, wearing a half-face balaclava, his identity hidden for security reasons, showed us a room full of Iranian drones in a Ukrainian military compound in Kyiv. A larger reconnaissance drone that also carries explosives. Pumps, motors, guide devices.
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The little one is what we were focused on. The Iranian model name is “Shahed 136”. When you’re close to it, you can touch it and check it out… it looks innocuous enough, made of cheap fiberglass and painted a dull gray. The kind of thing you’d see model airplane enthusiasts flying in a park on a Sunday afternoon.
However, hundreds of them have rained down on Ukraine. The locals can see and hear them coming. They experience destruction, even against the power grid here that is now taking power out of much of this country.
“We can see that these drones are targeting critical infrastructure targets,” explains Vasily.
The Ukrainians are getting pretty good at shooting them down with air defense systems; even sometimes with automatic rifles. Vasily showed me fragments of drones that had been knocked out of the sky or exploded on impact.
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Still, Iran sends Russia hundreds, if not thousands, of these relatively inexpensive drones. The fear is, as Ukrainian President Zelenskyy recently mentioned, of “massive attacks.” That is, a dozen pointing at a target. Even if 11 are shot down, one can destroy everything.
“The air defense system will not be able to cope with this,” admits Vasily.
As the fighting continues, on many fronts, in many threatening shapes and sizes.
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