Has Russia Begun Producing Iranian-Designed Suicide Drones?

A photo shared on social media on Monday shows the remains of a downed Geran-2, the Russian name for the Iranian Shahed-136 one-way attack drone, which Tehran has supplied to Moscow in large numbers. While hardly the first Geran-2 downed in Ukraine, this one is unique: The drone bears distinct markings that may indicate it was produced in Russia rather than in Iran.

The Geran-2 drones previously seen in Ukraine bore alphanumerical markings that begin with “M,” followed by a number. For example, a pair of drones downed last September, shortly after Russia first received the Geran-2 from Iran, were marked “M205” and “M214.” The serial numbers have grown steadily over time. A Geran-2 downed in late May was marked “M1062.”

By contrast, the marking on the drone seen on Monday begins with the Russian letter “Ы,” followed by “002.” That could indicate it was the second drone manufactured under a new production program.

Moscow, with Tehran’s help, is building a factory to produce Geran-2 drones in Russia. The facility is believed to be located in the Yelabuga (also transliterated “Alabuga”) Special Economic Zone in Tatarstan Oblast. Since last fall, Iran has reportedly provided Russia with drone-production equipment, blueprints, components, and other technical support as part of a $1 billion deal. Moscow and Tehran are also reportedly developing a new engine that’ll increase the drone’s range and speed.

Once fully operational, the facility will be able to churn out at least 6,000 drones in the coming years, according to officials from an unnamed U.S.-aligned country cited by The Wall Street Journal. The White House said in May that Russia had received over 400 Iranian-made drones, while Ukrainian military intelligence assessed that Tehran had supplied around 1,000 drones as of March.

On June 9, the National Security Council spokesman said U.S. intelligence believes the factory won’t come online until early 2024. The Monday photo could indicate Russia has commenced low-rate initial production earlier than anticipated. More likely, the drone seen on Monday could simply be a prototype created before the launch of serial production.

Localizing production of the Geran-2 will likely enable Russia to launch more of these drones against targets in Ukraine. That increased volume could help Russia overwhelm Ukrainian air defense systems and tax Kyiv’s dwindling supply of interceptor missiles.

John Hardie is the deputy director of FDD’s Russia Program and a contributor to FDD's Long War Journal.

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