Russia Struggles to Replicate Iran’s Kamikaze Drones

Russia is facing difficulties in reverse-engineering Iran’s Shahed series of kamikaze drones at a factory in Alabuga. Despite training in Iran and correspondence with Iranian drone developers, Russia has been unable to fully replicate the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The Russian domestic effort to produce their version, known as Geran-2, has also settled the debate over Iran arming Russia against Ukraine. Iran admitted to sending drones to Russia, but it clarified that it did so before the war. Plans to produce the drones locally in Russia, codenamed “Project Boat,” have fallen behind schedule. The factory, set up in Tatarstan, has only managed to manufacture 300 units of the Russian version. However, these units have the potential to surpass Iran’s drone development capability.

The project in Alabuga involves a Russian-Iranian deal where Tehran agreed to sell Moscow the technology and know-how for the drones. Iran would provide project documentation and components, while Russia would contribute industrial expertise and expand production. However, sourcing components and electronics has proven to be the most challenging stage of the project, as a significant amount of these components originate from the West, including the US. Sanctions placed on Moscow have limited its electronic imports. Russian engineers also struggle to reproduce the Iranian reverse-engineered version of the German Limach Flugmotoren L550E engine, which is considered the most complex task.

Despite these challenges, Russian engineers in Alabuga have made improvements to the drones, such as replacing malfunctioning Chinese electronic components with more reliable alternatives and conducting a design overhaul. However, there are still major differences in the airframe construction and internal units compared to the Iranian Shahed-136. A report by Conflict Armament Research (CAR) confirms that Russia has started producing and fielding its domestic version of the Shahed-136 based on detailed analysis of its design characteristics and key components.

It is yet to be seen whether Iran will use these reports to prove its innocence in the war, but both Russia and Iran continue to deny any weapons deal. Russia’s struggle to replicate Iran’s kamikaze drones highlights the complexities and challenges of reverse-engineering advanced military technology.

Definitions:
– Loitering munitions (or kamikaze drones): Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) designed to engage and destroy targets on the battlefield.
– Shahed series: A series of kamikaze drones developed by Iran.
– Reverse-engineer: The process of dismantling and examining a technology or product to understand its design and replicate it.
– Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV): An aircraft that operates without a human pilot on board.

Sources:
– The Washington Post: Russia is struggling to replicate Iran’s kamikaze drones at a factory it set up in the country’s southeast last year, according to documents accessed by The Washington Post.
– Conflict Armament Research (CAR): A report by CAR compares the Russian version of the Shahed drone to the original Iranian version, highlighting differences in design and components.