Russia upgrades its UAVs based on operational experience, UK Intel says

The Russian Federation launches Shaheds across Ukraine almost every night
The Russian Federation launches Shaheds across Ukraine almost every night

Since mid-2023, Moscow has almost certainly upgraded its Iranian-supplied Shahed suicide drones with similar weapons made in facilities in Russia, the UK Defense Intelligence reported in its latest update on Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Dec. 6.

Russia is now almost certainly attempting to incorporate improvements to its own suicide drone designs based on operational experience, the UK said.

Read also: Russia introduces improved Privet-82 kamikaze drone for combat use in Ukraine

In late Nov., a downed drone was reported as being fitted with a Ukrainian SIM card and 4G modem. This is likely a improvised modification to improve real-time guidance using cell towers to reduce reliance on satellite navigation. There is a realistic possibility that it is also attempting to mitigate Ukrainian electronic warfare measures, UK intelligence notes.

Some other Russian-made suicide drones have likely been painted with a black finish, making it harder to visually identify the incoming drones at night. Russia is increasingly employing these weapons in large raids in an attempt to overwhelm Ukrainian air defenses. However, Ukraine continues to successfully neutralize the majority of incoming attacks.

Read also: Ukrainian Air Defense takes out 41 of 46 kamikaze drones in Russia’s latest overnight assault

Ukrainian experts are actively studying the remains of Russian drones, including the purpose of a Kyivstar SIM card recently found in one of the downed models, Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat said on national television.

This SIM card likely allows Russian forces to use Kyivstar's mobile network to track the drone's location and change its flight path, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) previously reported.

Kyivstar is working with law enforcement agencies to prevent its SIM card from being used by the enemy.

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