What are kamikaze drones and why is Russia using them in Ukraine
What are kamikaze drones and why is Russia using them in Ukraine

What are kamikaze drones and why is Russia using them in Ukraine

Hitting civilian infrastructure seems to be only effective tactic for Putin’s under-pressure forces

Russia’s growing use of Iranian Shahed-136 drones reflects both strength and weakness. Monday morning’s drone bombings in the centre of Kyiv, in two clusters at the time of the morning rush hour, show how the weapons can cause destruction and fear in a capital that until a week ago had not been attacked for months.

The Shahed-136s first appeared in the war in September, and although they are described as kamikaze drones, they are better thought of as small cruise missiles with a relatively limited destructive capacity given their 50kg payload. Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said Russia had bought 2,400 – a large-sounding number, but these are being depleted fast.

Justin Bronk, an airpower specialist at the Royal United Services Institute thinktank, says the drones “are difficult to consistently intercept” but their airspeed is slow relative to cruise missiles, meaning air defences will always have a chance. “Ultimately, they offer a way for Russia to cause more civilian and military casualties in Ukraine, but will not turn the tide of the war,” he said.

It is the second major attack on Kyiv in a week. Last Monday, in response to the explosion at the Kerch strait bridge into Crimea, Russia unleashed a deadly hail of missile and drone strikes aimed at Kyiv and other major cities.

The bloody success of last week’s attack – an estimated 15 were killed that day alone – and the destruction of this Monday’s, reveals the limitations in Kyiv’s air defence. It is not clear why it has taken so long, but the US responded last week by saying it would expedite the delivery of the first two of eight promised Nasams air defence systems, which are deemed good enough to protect the Pentagon.

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