HESA Shahed 136: A cheap and deadly Iranian kamikaze drone

Author: Eric Sof

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The HESA Shahed 136 is an Iranian kamikaze drone designed for attacking ground targets from a distance. It is a so-called kamikaze drone because it acts as a projectile alongside the warhead it carries. After the engaging target, it is destroyed.

Introduction

The HESA Shahed 136 was developed by HESA as a loitering munition autonomous swarm pusher-prop aerial drone. Translated from Persian, it means Witness 136. The main advantage of this drone is its price. Shahed 136 is a relatively cheap drone with a price somewhere between $20,000 and $60,000 per unit.

Shahed 136 Launch Platform
Shahed 136 Launch Platform (Photo: XY)

The drone was first publicly announced in December 2021 through leaked footage, after which it was officially acknowledged that this weapon had officially entered service in the Iranian military. The drone has already been battle-proven in Yemen, and according to the reports, it was also used by Russia during the Invasion of Ukraine.

Shahed 136 drones are primarily designed to attack ground targets from a distance. His deployment is done from a launch rack (fired in batches of five upwards). Its primary objective is to evade air defenses and overwhelm ground targets, consuming air defense resources during the attack.

Design

The drone is designed as a flying wing with tip fence-type winglets. The winglet’s length is approximately 2.5 meters, and its wingspan of 3.5 meters. The nose section contains the warhead as well as the needed optics for a precision attack. The HESA Shahed 136 is armed with a warhead that weighs around 200 kg. The engine behind the drone seems to be a piston engine, a rocket booster used for the initial launch, with a speed of about 185 km/h. The engine is seated at the rear of the fuselage and drives a two-bladed propeller in a “pusher” arrangement. The fuselage is centralized and blended into the wing members to produce an elegant shape.

Hesa Shahed 136 drones
HESA Shahed 136 drones (Photo: XY)

Interestingly, reports say that the MD550 engine mentioned in the infographics is sourced on Aliexpress. Some sources call it a “loitering munition,” but most seem to agree it should be a “direct attack munition” since it lacks the loitering capability. The munition was publicly shown last year in the Great Prophet 17 exercise when the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps launched 10 Shahed 136 munitions from a truck-mounted containerized system.

The drones are launched near-horizontally with a slight upward angle and aided into the first phase of their flight by Rocket-Assisted Take-Off (RATO). The rocket is jettisoned immediately after launch, at which point the drone’s own conventional engine unit takes over. The inherent portability of the launcher rack and drone collection allows the complete unit to be fitted over the rear of most any military or commercial market truck – allowing for mobile “hit-and-run” operations, which can frustrate counter actions.

The Iranian Drone Shahid 136 Technical Data
The Iranian Drone Shahid 136 Technical Data (Photo: XY)


If any amount of accuracy and range are present in this new Iranian design, the Shahed-136 stands as something of an evolutionary addition for the sanctions-hit country that can now rely more heavily on its own military-industrial capacity to provide modern, over-battlefield solutions.

Operators

So far, alongside Iran, Shahed 136 is allegedly used in the Russian Armed Forces, where it has been re-branded with a Russian designation Geran-2 (Russian: Герань-2, literally “Geranium-2”). Drones that look exactly like Shahed 136 were mass used during the attacks on power infrastructure in Ukraine in October 2022, alongside other drones such as Orlan-10 UAV. Earlier, there were some reports that Iran supplied Houthi rebels with this type of drone.

Shahed 136 Before And After Impact Ukraine War
A Shahed 136 suicide drone a few seconds before and after hitting a target in Ukraine. (Photo: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP)

Technical specifications

Country of origin:Islamic Republic of Iran
Designer / Manufacturer:Shahed Aviation Industries / HESA
Role:Loitering munition
Status:In-service since 2021 (Iran)
Unit cost:Unknown, various estimates from $20,000 to €50,000 each
Mass:200 kg (440 lb)
Length:3.5 m (11 ft)
Warhead weight:40 kg (88 lb)
Engine:MD-550 piston engine
Wingspan:2.5 m (8.2 ft)
Operational range:1,800–2,500 km (1,118–1,553 mi)
Maximum speed:185 km/h (115 mph)
Guidance system:Autonomous GLONASS (upgraded Russian version)
Launch platform:Rocket Assisted Take Off (RATO)
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