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Sneaky Putin: Russia Is Desperate for ‘Domestic Suicide Drones’

Switchblade drone that is used by Ukraine's forces against Russia. Image Credit: Industry handout.
Switchblade drone that is used by Ukraine's forces against Russia. Image Credit: Industry handout.

For the better part of 11 months, the Russian military has relied on suicide drones to attack targets in Ukraine. 

With the help of the West, the Ukrainians have created a robust air defense umbrella. It can tackle anything from ballistic missiles to hypersonic cruise missiles to fighter jets to the aforementioned suicide drones. 

However, it is extremely expensive to maintain and resupply this air defense umbrella. Moscow knows this and wants to keep throwing cheap suicide drones against Kyiv’s forces. 

Russian Suicide Drones 

Moscow is moving toward creating a domestic supply chain of one-way attack drones, which are also known as loitering munitions or suicide drones. 

“Russia has almost certainly started to deploy domestically produced one-way attack Uncrewed Aerial Vehicles (OWA-UAVs) based on Iranian Shahed designs,” British Military Intelligence assessed in a recent estimate on the war. 

Iran has sent hundreds of loitering munitions to Russia, with the Shahed-136 being the most recognizable for its destructive effect and range.

These drones have attacked almost all major Ukrainian urban centers and have killed and maimed hundreds of innocent civilians during Moscow’s indiscriminate air raids. 

The Kremlin reached a deal with Tehran last summer to import the drones, and Russian forces received their first suicide drones in September.

“Indigenous manufacturing will likely allow Russia to establish a more reliable supply of OWA-UAVs.

The performance of these weapons has been variable, and Ukraine has proved effective in neutralizing the majority of incoming OWA-UAVs,” British Military Intelligence added.

The Ukrainians use a variety of air defense measures to take out these suicide drones, defending with missiles, autocannons, electronic warfare, and small arms fire. 

According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, the Russian forces have lost close to 4,300 tactical unmanned aerial systems.

These drones include reconnaissance and attack systems and are not exclusive to loitering munitions

“Russia likely aims for self-sufficiency in OWA-UAVs in the coming months.

However, in the interim, Russia remains reliant on components and whole weapons from Iran, primarily shipped via the Caspian Sea,” British Military Intelligence stated.

The Kremlin, however, isn’t in a rush because the fighting season for its suicide drones hasn’t started yet.

The Long-Range Attacks Season

With the push to create a domestic supply chain of suicide drones, Moscow is probably getting ready for the long-range attack season that starts around November, runs through April, and is designed around the brutal Ukrainian weather.

Russian leadership is likely to follow last year’s strategy and pound Ukrainian cities and critical infrastructure with missiles and drones during the cold months as a way to pressure Kyiv and its Western partners to the negotiations table.

Last year, that strategy failed to produce any results. The Ukrainian power grid suffered, and with it, millions of innocent people, but Kyiv held.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Kremlin advisers, however, are fighting a war of attrition in Ukraine, and they are bidding that a protracted conflict will drain the West’s desire to support Ukraine.

A 19FortyFive Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations and a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ). He holds a BA from the Johns Hopkins University graduate, an MA from the Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), and is pursuing a J.D. at Boston College Law School. His work has been featured in Business InsiderSandboxx, and SOFREP.

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1945’s Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist with specialized expertise in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.