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Russia Ramps Up Shahed Drone Production with $1.7 Billion Iran Deal Amid Ukraine Conflict.

In the context of the ongoing war in Ukraine, Russia is significantly boosting its drone manufacturing capabilities. According to a report by The Wall Street Journal on May 28, 2024, Russia plans to produce 6,000 Shahed-type drones annually at a new facility located in the Alabuga Special Economic Zone in Tatarstan. This expansion follows a contract disclosed by the hacker group Prana Network, which was initially leaked in February. The contract details a collaboration between Russia and Iran, supported by a $1.7 billion deal, partially paid in gold bars. This development underscores Russia's commitment to enhancing its drone warfare capacity amid the conflict.

The Shahed-136, also known by its operational name "Geranium-2" when used by Russian forces, is an Iranian-made loitering munition drone (Picture source: Russian MoD)

The Alabuga factory, strategically located on a tributary of the Volga River, aims not only to produce thousands of Shahed attack drones annually but also surveillance drones like the M3 Albatross, which have been crucial in gathering intelligence on Ukrainian military positions. These drones have played a significant role in repelling Ukrainian military actions near the Belgorod region, demonstrating their effectiveness in modern warfare. The factory's production has already exceeded expectations, with 4,500 drones produced by April, surpassing the projected numbers.

The Shahed-136, also known by its operational name "Geranium-2" when used by Russian forces, is an Iranian-made loitering munition drone. It was first observed in operational use around 2021, although its development and production likely started earlier. The Shahed-136 is designed primarily for kamikaze attacks, where it loiters over an area before diving into a target to detonate its explosive payload. The drone features a simple design conducive to low-cost production and operation, with a distinctive blunt nose and a rear-mounted propeller, powered by a small piston engine.

It can carry a warhead of up to 50 kilograms and has a range of approximately 2,500 kilometers, allowing it to cover significant distances. Its deployment in conflicts, notably in the Ukraine war by Russian forces, underscores its strategic role in modern warfare, offering a cost-effective means to conduct strikes against critical infrastructure and troop concentrations with a degree of standoff capability.

Russian efforts to increase domestic drone production are facilitated by technological and logistical support from Iran, incorporating Iranian military technology and leveraging Tehran's sophisticated logistics networks. This collaboration has enabled Russia to accelerate its drone manufacturing pace to meet the growing demands of its military engagements. Additionally, the Russian government is reportedly enhancing its capabilities by producing its own warheads, thereby reducing reliance on foreign technology and speeding up the readiness of combat drones.

To meet labor demands, Russian manufacturers have expanded their recruitment efforts internationally. In the previous year, they launched a recruitment campaign in Kampala, Uganda, targeting young female students with offers of well-paid skilled jobs, free accommodation, and educational opportunities, attracting over a thousand women from Africa to the Alabuga zone. This initiative is part of a broader strategy to build a skilled workforce capable of supporting Russia's ambitious drone production goals.

This expansion in drone production underscores Russia's strategic shift towards more autonomous warfare technologies and highlights the complex international collaborations underpinning modern military advancements. As the Alabuga facility continues to ramp up its production, the geopolitical implications of enhanced drone capabilities are expected to be significant, particularly influencing the ongoing war in Ukraine and tensions with Eastern Europe

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