Russia has carried out a series of “kamikaze” drone strikes across Ukraine in recent weeks, attacking civilian infrastructure and sowing terror in Ukrainian cities far from the front lines of the war.
The Ukrainian government says Kyiv, Vinnytsia, Odesa, Zaporizhzhia and other cities have been hit by drone attacks, and has called on Western countries to step up aid in the face of the new challenge.
Drones have played a major role in the conflict since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in late February, but their use has increased since Moscow bought new drones from Iran over the summer.
The Ukrainians themselves have used kamikaze drones to strike Russian targets, and have called on allies to supply them with more of these deadly weapons.
Here’s what we know about these drones.
Kamikaze drones or suicide drones are a type of aerial weapon system. They are known as lag munitions because they are able to wait for some time in an area identified as a potential target and only strike after identifying an enemy asset.
They are small, portable and easy to fire, but their main advantage is that they are difficult to detect and can be fired from a distance.
The name “Kamikaze” indicates that the drones are disposable. They are designed to strike behind enemy lines and are destroyed in attack, unlike traditional, larger and faster military drones that return home after firing missiles.
Ukraine’s military and US intelligence say Russia is using attack drones made by Iran. U.S. officials told CNN in July that Iran began demonstrating Shahed series drones to Russia last month at Kashan Airfield south of Tehran.
In August, US officials said Russia had purchased the drones and was training its forces to use them. According to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Russia has ordered 2,400 Shahed-136 drones from Iran.
Iran has denied supplying Russia with weapons despite evidence to the contrary. Iranian Foreign Minister Nasser Kanaani’s spokesman told state news agency IRNA on Monday: “Iran has repeatedly stated that it is not a party to the war between Russia and Ukraine and has not sent weapons to either side.”
But Ukraine said its forces shot down one of these drones for the first time last month near the Kharkiv city of Kupyansk. More attacks have since been reported. Kiev’s military said on Wednesday that it shot down 17 Shahed-136 drones that day alone. According to photos released by the Ukrainian authorities, Russia has changed the name of Shaheds and is using it under the name “Geran”.
US officials have said there is “some evidence” that Iranian drones have “already had numerous failures” on the battlefield.
U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Sasha Baker told reporters late last month that “the idea that they represent a technological leap, frankly, we don’t see in the data.”
Moscow also has its own kamikaze drones, made by Russian arms manufacturer Kalashnikov Concern. Ukraine said on Wednesday that it shot down two of the ZALA Lancet drones that day.
Although relatively small, Shahed drones are capable of carrying missiles and have a payload of approximately 50 kilograms (110 pounds). This means that they can cause significant damage.
Retired Australian Army Chief Mick Ryan told CNN that drones “generally have limited utility against military targets that require precision.”
“So the Russians are using these relatively unsophisticated drones against large targets like cities. As you mentioned, these attacks have no military utility, it’s about satisfying Putin’s toughness in Russia, they were in ecstasy after last week’s missile attacks and probably will be after these,” he said
Drone attacks can have a significant impact on the civilian population. Zelensky accused Moscow of using it to spread terror among civilians.
“All night and all morning, the enemy terrorizes the civilian population. Kamikaze drones and missiles are attacking the whole of Ukraine,” he said on Monday.
As air raid sirens blared across the capital, many people spent hours hiding in basements, underground stations and bomb shelters as schools returned to online education.
Last week, the International Red Cross denounced the use of drones, saying that the use of explosive weapons in populated areas causes mental and psychological damage and even life-threatening injuries.
Ukraine has been asking its allies for air defense systems since the war began in February, but the need has become urgent since Russia began using Iranian-made drones.
Air defense systems were one of the top three priorities on Ukraine’s weapons wish list presented at a meeting of Ukraine’s Defense Liaison Group in Brussels on Wednesday, according to a handout given to defense ministers attending the meeting.
General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters after Wednesday’s meeting that the US and its allies should provide air defense systems to Ukraine to help Ukraine defend its airspace against attacks by Russian forces. .
“A lot of countries have Patriot, a lot of countries have other systems, there’s a bunch of Israeli systems that are quite capable, the Germans have systems as we mentioned, so a lot of the countries that were here today have a lot of systems.” Milley said.
“That task will be to collect them, to deploy them, to train them, because each of these systems is different, to make sure that they can be linked to a command and control and communication system and to make sure that they have radars that can talk to each other so that they can acquire targets on incoming flights.”
The air defenses Ukraine needs to counter kamikaze drones are different from the systems used against cruise missiles and similar weapons. The Patriot air defense missile system – codenamed “Phased Array Tracking Radar to Intercept of Target” – is designed to engage and destroy short-range ballistic missiles, as well as advanced anti-aircraft and cruise missiles, and can be used against drones.
Ukrainian officials said Ukrainian air defense forces were already taking down “most” of the Shahed drones. Ukraine’s top military commander, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, tweeted Tuesday that he thanked Poland for training an air defense battalion that destroyed nine of the 11 Shaheds. He said Poland had provided Ukraine with “systems” to help destroy drones.
Last month it was reported that the Polish government had purchased advanced equipment from Israel (Israel has a policy of not selling “advanced defense technology” to Kiev) and was then transferring it to Ukraine.
Zelensky made another request on Thursday for more air defense capabilities, saying Kiev has only about 10 percent of what it needs to counter attacks from Moscow.
The Ukrainian army has been using RAM II kamikaze drones, developed by a consortium of Ukrainian companies and bought by ordinary Ukrainians with crowdfunded money. These precision-guided munitions can carry a 3-kilogram (6.6-pound) warhead and have a flight range of up to 30 kilometers (18.6 miles), according to the manufacturers.
But Kiev has also relied on its allies for drone supplies. The US has sent several types of air weapon systems to Ukraine. These include Switchblade drones, small, portable kamikaze drones that can carry a warhead and explode on impact. The larger Switchblade 300 and Switchblade 600 are produced by American defense company AeroVironment.
The smaller Switchblade 300 can hit a target up to 6 miles (9.6 kilometers) away, according to company-provided specifications, while the larger Switchblade 600 can hit a target more than 20 miles (32 kilometers) away. Both systems can be set up and up and running in minutes.
In May, the U.S. sent Ukraine “phoenix phantom” military drones, believed to be similar to the Switchblade, although little is known about their capabilities.
The UK has also supplied Ukraine with cruise missiles, including 850 hand-launched Black Hornet micro-drones.
Turkey’s Bayraktar TB2 drones have also been used by Ukraine. These have become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance. However, these are larger and designed to return home after dropping laser-guided bombs or missiles.