Russian forces fighting in Ukraine are quickly burning through their stockpile of Iranian Shahed-131 and Shahed-136 drones, as the invasion effort drags on, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).
Vladimir Putin’s forces have stepped up the frequency of the UAV, or unmanned aerial vehicle, attacks across Ukraine since December, the think tank said in an updated analysis on January 7.
The Kremlin is hoping to continue its assault on the country’s critical infrastructure, the ISW argued, without its supply of missiles suffering.
Russian forces have only 88 percent of their cache of Shahed drones remaining, meaning Moscow’s forces would have just 90 Iranian-made UAVs left at their disposal by this count, Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov claimed in a Twitter post on Friday.
Citing a press release from the Ukrainian military intelligence service, the ISW said the Kremlin will be expecting another shipment of Shahed drones, which were previously purchased in batches of between 200 and 300 UAVs.
Shahed drone attacks have become a prominent feature of Moscow’s war effort in recent months and have been rebranded as Geran-2 drones within Russia.
The UAVs are 11 feet long, reaching a top speed of around 115mph. They are distinctive in the low buzzing sound they emit, and are designed to carry a warhead that explodes or shatters when it reaches its target.
Reznikov in October called Shahed drones “just one” of Russia’s “tools,” but the presence of UAVs in Ukraine has continued to make headlines.
Earlier this week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the Kremlin hoped to “exhaust” Ukraine’s resistance forces through the relentless deployment of drones.
The Ukrainian leader said Kyiv understood Russia was “planning a protracted attack using Shahed drones,” Reuters reported, and that Moscow was “probably banking on exhaustion” of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, its anti-aircraft defense systems and its entire population.
Speaking in his nightly address earlier this year, he called for “everyone involved in the protection of the sky” to be “especially attentive”, according to the BBC.
Last week, CNN reported that a Ukrainian intelligence assessment provided to the U.S. government in late 2022 had found that within an Iranian drone shot down by Kyiv’s forces, parts manufactured by more than a dozen companies based in the U.S. and Western countries could be identified within the UAV.
A new wave of sanctions announced by the White House on Friday will attempt to target Iranian organisations it said produced drones used to attack Ukrainian civilians.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in the press release that the “Kremlin’s reliance on suppliers of last resort like Iran shows their desperation in the face of brave Ukrainian resistance.”
She added that it also highlighted “the success of our global coalition in disrupting Russian military supply chains and denying them the inputs they need to replace weapons lost on the battlefield.”