Russia produces 3.5 Shahed-136 drones daily or 100 per month

From July to October 2023, Russian manufacturing indicates an output of a minimum of 420 Shahed-136 kamikaze drones, based on the Alabuga project. Meanwhile, the average fabrication yield equates to approximately 3.5 Shahed-136 units daily, or around 100 drones each month. 

Russia put a GLONASS navigation module in Iranian Shahed-129
Photo credit: Twitter

These metrics suggest a lack of substantial investment from the Russians in the production timeline of the Alabuga project’s kamikaze drones. Nevertheless, progress is evident in the localized fabrication of specific UAV components. 

The Long War Journal portal’s investigation and analysis revealed this correlation, deriving conclusions from serial numbers of Russian Shahed-136 drones found on propeller tail fins featured in open-source outlets. 

Confirmed: Russia uses swarming Shahed-136 loitering munition
Photo credit: Wikipedia

The identifying serial numbers for domestically produced drones typically commence with “Ы”. For instance, the inaugural Russian-made Shahed-136 drone emerged in July of this year, labeled with the serial number “Ы002”. Russian drones with serial numbers “Ы089” and “Ы421” were also sighted following an attack on Odesa port infrastructure in late August and on October 29 respectively. 

These pieces of evidence bolstered the Long War Journal’s deduction that Russia managed to produce no less than 420 indigenous Shahed-136 units under the Alabuga project between July and October 2023. 

In contrast, until May 2023, the Russians affixed serial numbers beginning with “M” to their drones. For instance, kamikaze drones stamped with serial numbers M205 and M214 appeared in September 2022. Drones tagged with M293 and M1063 were spotted in October 2022 and May 2023, respectively. 

Russia produces 3.5 Shahed-136 drones daily or 100 per month
Photo by Sergei Supinsky

The Alabuga project plan stipulates the fabrication of 1,332 Shahed-136 unmanned kamikaze aircraft by February 2024. Currently, the manufacturing progress does not align with this projected output. 

However, it should be noted that Russia has showcased proficiency in harnessing faster-than-projected output of individual UAV components, such as airframe elements, navigational devices, and tungsten ball warheads.

What the Alabuga project is?

Official: No longer a rumor, Iran manufactures drones in Russia

In the heartland of Russia, inside a previously thriving industrial center, engineering teams were meticulously planning the Alabuga project. This clandestine endeavor involved the creation of a continuous production line meant to manufacture self-detonating drones. These lethal machines could potentially be deployed by President Vladimir Putin’s forces to launch relentless airstrikes on Ukrainian cities. 

Tasked with overseeing the security of this program was a retired officer from Russia’s Federal Security Service. To confine the highly skilled employees within the country, their passports were confiscated. 

Coded vernacular was utilized in correspondences and other official documents to maintain secrecy: Drones were termed as “boats,” explosives took the name “bumpers,” and Iran — the country covertly offering technical support — was referred to as “Ireland” or “Belarus.” 

This confidential arrangement between Russia and Iran was taking shape in November in the Tatarstan region, situated 500 miles from Moscow. The ambition of this venture is to construct 6,000 drones domestically by the summer of 2025. This operation is expected to mitigate the severe shortage of unmanned aerial vehicles [UAVs] the Russian army is currently facing. 

Official: No longer a rumor, Iran manufactures drones in Russia
Photo credit: Maxar Technologies

If realized, the massive new drone factory could contribute to maintaining Russia’s nearly depleted stock of precision munitions, hamper Ukraine’s attempts to reclaim occupied territories, and significantly strengthen Moscow’s standing in the rapidly evolving drone arms race that’s transforming contemporary combat. 

Western officials have already divulged the existence of this facility and Russia’s collaboration with Tehran. Nonetheless, documents leaked from within the program offer fresh insights into the efforts undertaken by Iran and Russia — two nations that have declared hostility towards the United States and are currently under heavy sanctions — to augment the Kremlin’s drone program. 

The leaked documents collectively suggest that Moscow has persevered in progressing towards its aim of creating a version of the Iranian Shahed-136 — an offensive drone that can cover distances over 1,000 miles. These advancements have been made despite lingering delays and a production process deeply harrowed by reliance on foreign-manufactured electronic parts. 

These documents also reveal that the facility’s engineering team is attempting to update Iran’s antiquated production techniques, employing Russian industrial knowledge to escalate the scale of drone production beyond what Tehran achieved and maintain superior quality control. 

These engineers are also investigating enhancements to the drones themselves, including the incorporation of capabilities that allow swarm attacks where the UAVs can autonomously coordinate assaults on a target.

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