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By Kris Osborn, President, Center for Military Modernization

(Washington D.C.) Thousands more Iranian drones may be headed to Ukraine for Russian forces who continue to use them to attack armored vehicles, air defenses, troop concentrations and weapons such as mobile artillery.


A Senior Pentagon official did not confirm that indeed as many as 2,000 more Shahed 136 drones were headed from Iran to support the Russian effort, but certainly made it clear that such an initiative would by no means be surprising. The Iranian “kamikaze” drones are described as a loitering munition autonomous swarm pusher-prop aerial drone which bring the advantage of being expendable and attack from long ranges as far at 2,500km.

“We do know that Iran has provided Russia with drones for use on the battlefield in Ukraine. While I don't have anything specific to provide in terms of potential future deliveries, it would not -- we would not be surprised were that the case,” a Pentagon official told reporters, according to a transcript.

Related Video Above: Rep. Rob Wittman (VA) sits down for an exclusive interview with Warrior Maven's, Kris Osborn

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These kinds of weapons present a serious threat to Ukrainian forces as they can be quite difficult to defend for a number of key reasons. On the simple notion of numbers, large numbers of swarming drone-explosives would be quite difficult to target with any kind of kinetic interceptor given the built in redundancy. Drones like this are lower altitude and can be organically attached to and launched from dismounted units in closer proximity. Ukrainian air defenses, for example, could be overwhelmed, smothered or exploded by these kinds of “kamikaze” type of attack drones. 

It also appears that these kinds of Iranian drones could conduct ISR missions as well and send back location details of Ukrainian forces to Russian invaders. Weapons of this kind could make Ukrainian armored vehicles, formations or artillery systems vulnerable to closer-in attacks.

The best possibility to defend against these, it would seem, might reside in the area of EW as individual kamikaze drones would likely prove difficult to target. An electronic signature, however, might be able to blind, jam or disrupt groups of drones with an “area” type of weapon, therefore rendering many of them ineffective at once. These kinds of drones could be difficult to see coming as they might quickly emerge from behind a mountain or building for rapid surprise attacks on advancing Ukrainian positions. 

These are likely just a few of the reasons why numerous reports suggest more of these could be on the way, a development likely of concern to Ukrainian forces. The range of these drones could also prove problematic, should they actually be capable to traveling 2,500km to strike a target. This would mean that Ukrainian forces operating at safe standoff distances beyond the range of Russian artillery could wind up becoming unexpectedly vulnerable.

At the same time, a report from MSN quotes the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine stating that its forces have shot down and destroyed 16 of these Iranian drones, so Ukrainians are likely learning more about these drones and working on innovative ways to counter them. Certainly advanced EW, critical surveillance technology to “see them coming” and even some kinetic drone defenses such as “area” weapons like the Phalanx or artillery rounds shot with a proximity fuse to disable, explode or destroy a handful of incoming aerial attacks across a small area at one time.

Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.