From DAR to Black Shahed: The Evolution of the Kamikaze Drone in the Russian Hands

One of Russia's primary choices for penetrating Western air defences is a anti-USSR weapon.

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Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna is a Defence & Aerospace analyst and is the Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany with manufacturing units in Russia. He is Consulting Editor Industry and Defense at Frontier India.

On November 14, the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), an American organisation, reported that the localisation process for the production of Iranian Shahed-136 drones, more commonly referred to as “Geran-2” in Russia, is nearing completion. Supposedly, assembly kits were previously shipped to the Russian city of Makhachkala from the Iranian Caspian port of Amirabad. 

However, a significant portion of these kits are now manufactured in Russia. It has been reported that Russian engineers allegedly implemented substantial modifications to the drone’s configuration. Russian combat components, antennas, geolocation modules, batteries, servomotors, and casings have been incorporated into the original “Shahed.” Thus, the name “Geran” has maintained its initial form, notwithstanding its Iranian origin. 

If one were to believe the Russian Ministry of Defence statistics, the efficacy and resistance to air defence of the kamikaze UAV have been profoundly impacted. Nevertheless, “Gerans” continued to be susceptible to air defence systems.

On November 19, 2023, during the exhibition of aerospace achievements by the Iran Aviation Industries Organization (IAIO), a new disposable strike drone, locally referred to as an evolution of the well-known “Shahed-136,” was presented. Its main distinction is that it uses a jet engine instead of a piston engine, with an original shape incorporating elements of stealth technology. Additionally, as noted by Western experts, the drone features radar-absorbing material.

It is widely held in the West that the Islamic Republic had not previously acquired these technologies, whereas Russia did. This increases the likelihood that this new drone results from collaborative efforts and may emerge as a flagship product of the forthcoming “Alabuga” manufacturing platform. The new drone is comparable in size to the “Geran” in dimensions – length: 3 metres, weight: approximately 200 kg, combat payload: approximately 50 kg.

Including electronic-optical/infrared, radar, and inertial/GPS guidance modules in three drone variants further implies Russian involvement. According to the Iran Aviation Industries Organisation (IAIO), it is completely prepared for mass production. Assuming the rumour is true, this would substantially advance the collaborative progress between Russia and Iran. This type of attack UAV would rectify the “Geran-2’s” primary deficiencies and present a formidable challenge to air defence systems primarily designed to oppose it. 

Russia’s Geran-2 and the Black Shaheds

According to Russian media, the Russian Armed Forces employed black unmanned aerial vehicles for the first time during the most massive “Shahed” attack on Ukrainian territory on the night of November 25. According to Russian media, black-painted Geranium was used intentionally because camouflage can impede searchlights’ ability to detect it against the night sky background. Searchlights are the primary means of identification for mobile air detection groups. 

Another trick, according to Bridget Brink, the United States Ambassador to Ukraine, Russia is sending waves of drones to strike Ukraine whenever the temperature drops below zero degrees.

A fragment of the kamikaze drone Geran-2 painted black. Image: Opensource/Social Media

Several misconceptions regarding the “black Shaheds” emerged almost immediately. The initial one was that the Russian Armed Forces utilised in Ukraine newly delivered Shahed-238 drones equipped with an infrared guidance system, which Iran had introduced a few days prior. Nonetheless, this did not prove to be the case. Yuri Ignat, a representative for the Ukrainian Armed Forces Air Force, stated that the aircraft in question was the Shahed-136, which Russia had used in the past and had been painted black by the Russians.

The Russians had previously enhanced Iranian-obtained and domestically manufactured UAVs by incorporating composite materials into the reflective surfaces. It is now evident that carbon material was used, Ignat stated. 

He elaborated that carbon functions as a radar signal absorbent. Additionally, the Russians began painting their drones black at night to reduce their visibility. This complicates air defence operations, specifically mobile fire units’ visual reference to the target.

Specialists are currently examining the wreckage of the downed “black Shaheds” to determine precisely what materials the Russians employ in these unmanned aerial vehicles, according to Yuri Ignat.

On the other hand, researchers from the Kiev Scientific Research Institute of Forensic Expertise hold a different viewpoint. When the journalists from “Informator” arrived at the research institute, they discovered debris that had been sent there for analysis. “Shaheds” are created by painting the areas visible from the ground with a dark colour. A light grey colour is maintained throughout the body’s internal details. Only the ‘Shahed-136’ exterior was changed from light grey to black. According to Alexander Ruvin, director of KNIISE, the colouring was most likely done amateur, which is quite comparable to the usage of spray products.

The concept of black-painted Shaheds is not new. In March 2022, such UAVs were observed at an underground base in Iran. Additionally, near the Khurais oil field in Saudi Arabia, which was targeted by the Houthis, a militia organisation composed of Zaydi Shiites operating in Yemen, in 2019, the remnants of a black drone were discovered.

Shahed-136 drone and the Irony

Russia’s use of Shahed-136 drones is one of the unusual stories of the current times. The German technologists of the 20th century developed a comparable concept known as Die Drohne Antiradar (DAR). It is mentioned on the website Panzerbaer. During the mid-1980s, a collaborative effort was initiated between Germany and the United States to create a disposable drone with dual purposes: identification and targeting of Soviet radar stations (radars) and a decoy function for detecting the air defences of the Warsaw Pact countries (Eastern European nations influenced by the USSR). The intended operation of the drone was to adhere to the “launch and forget” methodology.

The German aircraft manufacturer Dornier (1922 to 2002) won the defence competition. Its product, Die Drohne Antiradar (DAR), was developed using technologies primarily provided by the American Texas Instruments.

The kamikaze drone DAR possessed remarkable attributes for its time: a maximum flight altitude of 3 hours, a maximum payload of 110 kilogrammes, and a maximum velocity of 250 kilometres per hour; these figures enable us to approximate the drone’s range to be around 600 kilometres. It was intended for use as an engine and was a creation of Fichtel and Sachs, a company that presently specialises in automobile power plants.

The drone launcher resembles the contemporary iteration designed for the Shahed-136 (and Israeli IAI Harop). DAR commenced operations with containers mounted on an Iveco 260AH vehicle with a chassis based on the MAN 22.240DE.

In the 1990s, the German army was expected to implement antiradar drones. However, with the end of the Cold War and the Soviet Union’s demise as an enemy, the necessity for these kamikaze drones ceased to exist. The Germans offered prototype suicide drones for sale in 2009, but the identity of the purchaser was hidden.

The anti-USSR weapon is now one of Russia’s most important options for breaking through Western air defences.


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