A Russian Major General, Vladimir Popov, claimed in an interview with the propaganda channel, Sputnik TV, that Russia would soon be using a new version of the Geran-2 kamikaze drone. According to him, the new version would include a jet engine giving it a flight speed of up to 800 kilometers per hour, an improved guidance system and a larger warhead.
In September Iran announced that it was producing a new variant of its Shahed series of “one-way attack unmanned aerial vehicles” (OWA UAV) one of which would be equipped with a jet engine. The claim was made in a trailer for its forthcoming documentary Parchamdar (Flagship), billed as a definitive history of drone development in the country.
On Nov. 20 the Ukrainian news outlet Militarnyi said that the new drone was called Shahed-238 and had been displayed at the Iranian Ashura Aerospace University of Science & Technology.
There are, apparently three variants of this new UAV which are all fitted with the Toloue-10 micro-turbojet 896 engine but will have different guidance systems.
The normal model would include the standard GPS / GLONASS-based inertial guidance system as used in the Shahed-136. A second version would incorporate an infrared system to help seek out “hot” targets such as military vehicles. The third variant would possess a radar detection system designed to attack air defense and other radars.
The Shahed-238 jet-powered OWA UAV. Screenshot from the Parchamdar video
The obvious visible change to its predecessor is the matte black exterior of the drone, which is probably a coating containing carbon fiber in an attempt to make it stealthier both reducing visibility to the eye as well as acting to absorb radar reflections. The other major difference is the absence of the rear pusher propellor which has been replaced by an air intake for the jet engine.
The Iranians suggest that the top speed of the Shahed-238 will be around 500 kilometers per hour, considerably less than Popov’s claim. This additional speed combined with the lower visibility and possibly lower engine noise will, in theory, make the drones less susceptible to ground fire from Gepard or similar weapons.
The increased speed provided by the jet engine does come with a downside.
The micro-turbojet engine will be mounted inside the fuselage of the drone whereas much of the current piston engine is on the outside this will reduce the space available for fuel storage which, combined with a probable increase in fuel consumption and a probable significant reduction in its current 1,900-kilometer range. It is also probable that the reduction in its inner dimension may result in a reduction in warhead size contrary to Popov’s claims.
In some ways, the slower speed of the current Shaheds have worked to their advantage as, despite being vulnerable to ground observation, they were harder to spot using radar as they were masked by low-level clutter. The higher speed and the likely higher heat signature will make it easier to detect with heat-seeking air defense missiles.
The drones are also likely to be considerably more expensive than the $35,000-50,000 dollars of its predecessor.
Iran’s drone technology is a crucial part of its current defense strategy and foreign policy, as well as increasing its income. It is unclear whether or not Iran will be supplying the jet-powered Shahed 238s directly to Russia or whether the Kremlin will choose, as it is doing with the current models, to build them based on Iranian plans and use alternative sources for the engines and other components.
Whichever way they go, if and when the jet-powered drones appear they will pose another threat and be another problem for Ukraine’s air defenses to overcome.
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