(CNN) — Russia has carried out a series of “kamikaze drone” attacks in Ukraine in recent weeks, damaging civilian infrastructure and sowing terror in the country’s cities far from the front lines of the war.
Ukraine’s government says Kyiv, Vinnytsia, Odessa, Zaporizhia and other cities have suffered multiple drone strikes. For this reason, he asked Western countries to increase their assistance in the face of the new challenge.
Drones have played a major role in the war since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in late February. However, their use has increased since Moscow bought new drones from Iran over the summer.
Ukrainian forces themselves have used kamikaze drones to attack Russian targets and have called on their allies to provide them with more units of these deadly weapons.
This is what we know about these drones.
What are kamikaze drones?
Kamikaze drones, or suicide drones, are a type of aerial weapons system. They are known as loitering munitions because they can wait long enough over an area identified as a potential target and only attack when they identify an enemy asset.
They are small, portable and can be easily launched. But their main advantage is that they are difficult to detect and can be fired from a distance.
The word “kamikaze” refers to the fact that drones are disposable. They are designed to hit behind enemy lines and destroy themselves on attack, unlike the larger, faster, more traditional military drones that return home after launching missiles.
What drones does Russia use in Ukraine?
Ukraine’s military and US intelligence say Russia uses Iranian-made attack drones. US officials told CNN in July that Iran had begun showing off Shahed-series drones to Russia at Kashan airfield south of Tehran the previous month.
In August, US officials said that Russia had purchased these drones and was training its forces to use them. According to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Russia has ordered 2,400 Shahed-136 drones from Iran.
Ukraine also claimed that its forces shot down one of these drones for the first time in September, near the Kharkiv city of Kupyansk. Since then, more attacks have been reported. The Kyiv army said last Wednesday that it had shot down 17 Shahed-136 drones that day alone. According to photos released by the Ukrainian authorities, Russia changed the name of Shaheds and now uses them under “Geran”.
US officials say there is already “some evidence” that Iranian drones “have suffered numerous failures” on the battlefield.
US Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Sasha Baker told reporters late last month that “frankly, the idea that (these drones) represent a technological advance is not reflected in the data.”
Moscow also has its own kamikaze drones, which are made by the Russian arms company Kalashnikov Concern. Ukraine claimed on Wednesday that it had shot down two of these ZALA Lancet drones that day.
How much damage can these drones deal?
Although relatively small, the Shahed drones can carry missiles and have a payload of about 50 kilograms (110 pounds). That means they can cause significant damage.
Mick Ryan, a retired Australian Army Major General, told CNN that drones are “generally of limited utility against military targets that require precision.”
“So the Russians are using these unsophisticated drones against big targets like cities. As they mention, these strikes have no military utility. It’s all about Putin satisfying hardliners in Russia who were ecstatic last week after of the missile attacks and that they probably will be after these,” he added.
Drone strikes can have a huge impact on the civilian population. Zelensky accused Moscow of using them to sow terror among civilians.
“All night and all morning, the enemy terrorizes the civilian population. Drones and kamikaze missiles are bombing all of Ukraine,” he said on Monday.
As air-raid sirens blared across the capital, many people spent hours hiding in basements, underground stations and bomb shelters as schools returned to online classes.
In a statement last week, the International Red Cross denounced the use of drones. And he added that using explosive weapons in populated areas causes mental and psychological damage, as well as life-threatening injuries.
How can Ukraine defend itself against these drones?
Ukraine has asked its allies for air defense systems since the start of the war in February. However, the need has become more urgent since Russia began using Iranian-made drones.
Air defense systems were among the top three priorities on a weapons list that Ukraine presented during a Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting in Brussels last Wednesday, according to a handout handed out to defense ministers who participated in the meeting. .
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters after the meeting on Wednesday that the United States and its allies needed to provide Ukraine with air defense systems so the country could defend its airspace against attacks. of the Russian forces.
“Many countries have Patriot, many countries have other systems, there are a whole series of Israeli systems that are quite capable, the Germans have systems as we mentioned. So many of the countries that were here today have a wide variety of systems,” Milley said.
“The task will be to bring them together, to deploy them, to train them, because each of these systems is different, to make sure that they can connect with a command and control and communication systems. And make sure they have radars that talk to each other so they can acquire targets on incoming flights.”
The air defense Ukraine needs to combat kamikaze drones is different from the systems used against cruise missiles and similar weapons. The Patriot missile air defense system ––which stands for “Phased Array Tracking Radar to Intercept of Target”–– is designed to counter and destroy short-range ballistic missiles, as well as advanced aircraft and cruise missiles. It could also be used against drones.
Ukrainian officials said the country’s air defense forces were already shooting down the “large part” of the Shahed drones. General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, Ukraine’s top military commander, tweeted last Tuesday his thanks to Poland for being “brothers in arms,” after he trained an air defense battalion he said had destroyed nine of the 11 Shaheds. . He said that Poland had given Ukraine “systems” to help destroy the drones.
Last month it was reported that the Polish government had purchased advanced Israeli equipment (Israel has a policy of not selling “advanced defensive technology” to Kyiv) and was then transferring it to Ukraine.
Zelensky again called for increased air defense capabilities on Thursday, saying Kyiv has only about 10% of what it needs to combat attacks from Moscow.
Does Ukraine also have kamikaze drones?
Ukraine’s military has used RAM II kamikaze drones, which were developed by a consortium of Ukrainian companies and bought with money financed by ordinary Ukrainians. These precision drones can carry 3-kilogram warheads and have a flight range of up to 30 kilometers, according to the manufacturers.
But Kyiv has also relied on its allies for drone supplies. The United States has sent various types of aerial weapons systems to Ukraine. These include Switchblade drones, small, portable kamikaze drones that can carry a warhead and detonate on impact. The Switchblade 300 and the larger Switchblade 600 are produced by the US defense company AeroVironment.
The smaller Switchblade 300 can hit a target up to 6 miles away, according to specifications provided by the company, while the larger Switchblade 600 can hit a target over 20 miles away. Both systems can be set up and running in minutes.
In May, the United States sent the Ukrainian military “Phoenix phantom” drones, which are believed to be similar to the Switchblade, although little is known about their capabilities.
The UK has also provided Ukraine with such technology, including 850 Black Hornet microdrones that are launched by hand.
Kyiv has also used Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drones. These have become a kind of symbol of the Ukrainian resistance. However, they are larger devices and are designed to return to bases, after dropping bombs or laser-guided missiles.
— CNN’s Tim Lister, Mick Krever, MJ Lee, Oren Liebermann, Kylie Atwood, Ellie Kaufman, Tom Foreman and Josh Pennington contributed to this report.