How Russia Is Using Teens to Build Iranian-Style Kamikaze Drones

Arms control experts have been combing through the broken wreckage of the Iranian-built Shahed-136 and Shahed-131 kamikaze drones used by Russia in daily assaults on Ukrainian cities for some time. However, autopsies of delta-wing drones shot down in July revealed something new: Shahed drones are constructed in Russia, not Iran.

In Russian service, the Shaheds are known as Geran-2s and had a cruising speed of 75 miles per hour. Ukrainian defenses now routinely shoot down the large majority of daily drone attacks—and in some cases, all of them. Russia, on the other hand, is playing a numbers game. Shaheds are inexpensive by long-range weapon standards—perhaps $20,000 a piece, compared to million-dollar cruise missiles—and can help redirect fire away from fancier missiles when employed in tandem. When shads get through, they can still cause significant damage, making Ukraine to devote significant resources to home air defense that could otherwise be used to protect troops on the frontlines.

Russia’s capacity to prolong the drone terror campaign appears to be linked to guaranteeing a consistent supply from Iran, which erroneously claims that the Shaheds were provided prior to the war. In truth, Iran’s traditional foreign policy elite prefers a neutral stance in the Russia-Ukraine conflict; but, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps supports arming Russia in order to test weaponry and obtain Russian arms in exchange, including promised—but still undeliverable—Su-35S fighters. Russia’s initial Shahed purchase was for 2,400 drones, and Ukrainian sources estimate that over 2,000 drones have already been employed in Ukrainian strikes. However, Russian sources stated early on that there were intentions to collaborate with Iran on launching Russian factory manufacture of Shahed drones by November 2022. And that factory, which is located in the Alabuga Special Economic Zone in Tatarsan, Russia, is said to have started constructing drones early this year.

According to leaked documents, Russia is investing $2 billion in the effort, including $1 billion paid to Iran for a technology transfer rather than depending on reverse engineering. The goal is to supply 6,000 additional kamikaze drones to Russia’s military by September 2025, with two-thirds of them manufactured exclusively in Russia.

Dissecting Russia’s new Geran-2

War Armament Research (CAR), a business that sends teams to analyze armaments in war zones, released a report on two crashed kamikaze drones recovered in July on August 11. While previously recovered ‘Geran-2s’ were proved to be of Iranian origin, those that crashed in July were not.

To avoid confusion, this page will henceforth refer to the original Iranian drones as Shaheds and those constructed in Russia as Gerans, despite the fact that Russia’s military may refer to both as Gerans, which stands for ‘Geranium.’

CAR first shows that, like their Iranian counterparts, the Russian-built Geran primarily rely on components coming from China, Switzerland, and the United States.

However, four components are created exclusively in Russia and were not found on the original Iranian-built drones.

The new Geran-2’s skin is unique: although the Iranian drones employ a honeycomb pattern material between skin surfaces, the new Russian ones use fiber-glass over carbon fiber.

However, the alterations go beyond the surface. The Geran-2’s satellite navigation, flight control, and starting systems are all part of a new production set, with part numbers B-105, B-101, and B-103. These simplify the more intricate Iranian architecture of the original model.

Investigators, for example, identified the B-105 satellite navigation unit as employing a Kometa GNSS -system previously detected in Russian-built Orlan-10 and Forpost surveillance drones and satellite-guided bombs, replacing the original’s multi-component system.

Fragments from an Iranian-built Shahed-136

Finally, the Geran-2’s B-103 starting unit is different from the Shahed’s and appears to have been constructed after March 2023.

“The internal units documented by CAR in the Geran-2 UAVs indicate that the Russian Federation has distilled the principles of the Shahed series UAV, while simplifying its functioning by combining new solutions with existing ones like the Kometa, which have been battle tested in other weapon systems,” concludes CAR’s report. As a result, the Russian Federation will most likely be able to quickly construct additional Geran-2 UAVs to prolong its operation in Ukraine.”