(CNN Spanish) — As the war in Ukraine drags on with no end in sight, Russia is increasingly making use of so-called “kamikaze drones” to bombard Ukrainian cities.
These small, portable airborne systems are more accurately known as loitering munitions, because they can hover over an area for a period of time and attack when a target is identified.
They fly low, slow and with a low explosive load, and are difficult to detect and shoot down with advanced anti-aircraft weapons designed to counter missiles and aircraft.
The word “kamikaze” is often used to describe them since they are drones that have a single use, like any ammunition: they carry a small warhead and are destroyed in the attack, unlike traditional military drones, which operate as armed unmanned aircraft. with bombs and missiles and ready to return to base after completing the mission.
Thus, these drones are more similar to a small, cheap and partially autonomous cruise missile than to the suicide missions undertaken by the Japanese during World War II and known as “kamikaze” (divine wind, in Japanese): there the pilot he willingly sacrificed himself by crashing his explosives-laden plane into an enemy target, usually a warship.
Drones of all kinds have played a major role in warfare since the Russian invasion on February 24. However, the use of these “kamikaze drones” has been on the rise since Moscow reportedly began buying them from Iran over the summer.
Which countries produce and use these types of weapons?
Loitering munitions or “kamikaze drones” are not state-of-the-art technology but a low-cost, low-intensity solution, and any country with a developed drone industry is capable of producing them.
The United States, China, Israel, Iran, Russia, Taiwan and Turkey, all big players in the drone market, produce their own “kamikaze drones,” according to the Brookings Institute, a Washington-based think tank.
Other countries such as Azerbaijan, Armenia, Germany, India and South Korea employ these weapons in their arsenals, purchased from other countries or built locally. Israel, especially, has exported a large number of its loitering munitions, most notably the Harop series. While the Houthi rebels in Yemen have claimed the use of Iranian drones against the Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia.
Ukraine also uses this technology: it has in its arsenal the RAM II drones, developed by a consortium of local companies, and the Switchblades of American origin, which have been widely used by its forces in this war.
And a large number of non-state actors, including terrorist groups, have been using “kamikaze drones” for years, often modifying drones for civilian use.
Iran, supplier of Russia?
The Islamic Republic of Iran is a powerhouse in drone development, and Ukraine has claimed that some of its loitering munitions, such as the Shahed-136, have been used by Russia in the war.
In August, US officials told CNN that Russia had acquired an unspecified number of Iranian drones, not only their “kamikaze” models but also the more traditional ones used to carry weapons or conduct intelligence. The report mentioned the Mohajer-6 and the Shahed-129 and Shahed-191, among others.
Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, has said that Russia ordered 2,400 of the Shahed-136 “kamikaze drones” alone.
Iran, on the other hand, has denied supplying drones to Russia as part of its war in Ukraine, saying it “will not do so in the future.” Although the drones that fell on Kyiv, according to agency images, are very similar to the Shahed-136, named Geran 2 in Russia.
Russia develops its own loitering munitions, and it is not entirely clear why it has decided to use Iranian drones in the war.
With information from Ivana Kottasová and Natasha Bertrand.