Following the debut of the Iranian Shahed 136 delta wing ’suicide drone’ on Ukrainian battlefields, a second larger Iranian unmanned aircraft the Mohajer-6 has reportedly begun operations in the theatre to support the Russian war effort. Ukrainian sources have indicated that the aircraft have been involved in strikes on targets in Odessa and Dnepropetrovsk, although further details were not provided. The drone deploys a wide range of guided weapons including both bombs and short ranged missiles, with each carrying up to four. It is also capable of operating in surveillance roles and shares the same stabilised electro-optical system as the better known and widely used Shahed 129 drone allowing it to search for targets at 12km ranges and lock on at a 10km. The aircraft also uses electro-optical, laser and infrared detection systems and has a 12 hour endurance and 100kg payload allowing it to potentially strike targets across much of Ukraine.
Transport aircraft affiliated with the Iranian Army and Revolutionary Guard Corps have made several flights into Russia from mid-September and are speculated to be delivering drones in considerable quantities. The Wall Street Journal was among several sources to report “serious damage” from strikes by the Shahed 136 citing reports from Ukrainian officers, with experts cited by the paper stressing that its impact was a game changer. While the Shahed 136 is a single use weapon, which uses its own body as a delivery vehicle for its payload, the Mohajer-6 provides a less costly means of laying down firepower and at greater ranges. It remains uncertain whether the aircraft’s impact on the battlefield will be as pronounced, just how many will be deployed, or to what extent Iranian personnel may be involved in their operations from Russia itself. With Iran fielding much higher end drone classes including the Shahed 191 and other flying wing stealth designs which have proved highly survivable in combat, and against air defence networks much more capable than that of Ukraine, the possibility that the Mohajer-6 is only the second step towards deployment of a much larger more potent Iranian-supplied unmanned fleet by the Russian Military remains considerable. Iran is one of just three countries to have operationalised flying wing stealth aircraft, with drones remaining a pronounced strength of its defence sector and an outstanding weakness of that of Russia.