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UK intel: As Russia improves Iranian drones, Ukraine keeps downing most of them

Since mid-2023, Russia has upgraded Iranian Shahed-series one-way attack drones with its weaponry as recent discoveries reveal improvements and covert alterations, per UK intelligence.
Black-painted Shahed drone reportedly downed on 25 November. Credit: Tsaplienko/TG channel

In its December 6 intelligence update, the UK Defense Ministry notes that since mid-2023, Russia has upgraded Iranian Shahed-131/136 drones, modifying their designs and tactics.

The ministry tweeted:

  • Since mid-2023, Russia has almost certainly augmented Iranian-supplied Shahed one-way attack uncrewed aerial vehicles (OWA UAVs) with similar weapons made in facilities in Russia. Russia is now almost certainly attempting to incorporate improvements to the OWA UAV designs based on operational experience.
  • In late November 2023, a downed UAV was reported as being fitted with a Ukrainian SIM card and 4G modem. This is likely a Russian improvised modification to improve real-time guidance using cell towers to reduce reliance on satellite navigation. There is a realistic possibility that it is also attempting to mitigate Ukrainian electronic warfare measures.
  • Some other Russian-made OWA UAVs have likely to been given a black finish, making it harder to visually identify the incoming drones at night. Russia is increasingly employing OWA UAVs in large raids in an attempt to overwhelm Ukrainian air defences. However, Ukraine continues to successfully neutralise the majority of incoming weapons.

Currently, Russia launches Shahed attack against Ukraine almost every night, constantly changing the routes of individual drones, attempting to bypass the Ukrainian air defenses.

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