What Iran’s drones in Ukraine mean for the future of war

By | November 10, 2022

Michael Knights and Alex Almeida write:

In the 1930s, future adversaries in the Second World War — Nazi Germany and its Italian allies, and the Soviet Union under Josef Stalin — fought a proxy war. The Spanish Civil War was a testbed for many of the technologies and tactics used in the subsequent world war, particularly aerial bombing of civilian and military targets. Today, the conflict in Ukraine is being used by the Islamic Republic of Iran for the same purposes and has been added to the regime’s other testbed training environments, such as Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, the Gulf states, Gaza and even international shipping lanes.

As in the Spanish Civil War, the great powers today will learn some lessons from Ukraine correctly and misinterpret others. Exposing capabilities will come at a cost, both diplomatically and in terms of better preparing Iran’s adversaries in future conflicts. Nowhere is the testbed nature of the Ukrainian war clearer than in Iran’s supply of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, to the Russian military.

Iranian drones have become an increasingly important weapon for Russia in its war in Ukraine, where they are used to strike a range of civilian and military targets. According to U.S. officials, Iran has also sent trainers to Crimea to teach the Russians how to use them correctly. Their usage offers a glimpse into a future where cheaply-made attack equipment is able to grind down expensive and sophisticated materiel.

Iranian-made drones of the Shahed-131 and Shahed-136 series first began turning up in Ukraine in mid-August 2022. Initially, the Russian military appears to have employed them primarily as battlefield loitering munitions (also known as “one-way attack” or suicide drones), using them to strike at Ukrainian artillery and other mid-value tactical targets. Then came a change: Since mid-October, the Shaheds have formed a key component of a coordinated campaign of strategic strikes against key nodes of Ukraine’s electricity distribution grid and power-generation capacity. [Continue reading…]

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