“Bad News” For Ukraine: Russia Begins Using ‘Double Deadly’ Jet-Powered Shahed-238 Kamikaze UAVs

With Russia intensifying its aerial assaults on Ukraine by the day, there is evidence that the Russian military has started using the jet-powered Shahed-238 kamikaze drones to hit targets inside Ukraine. 

The Shahed-238 is derived from the Shahed-136 kamikaze drones acquired from Iran, which have been used for over a year. The use of Shahed-238, however, bears an eerie resemblance to Russia’s use of Shahed-136 last winter when it specifically targeted Ukrainian energy infrastructure and essentially left most parts of the country in the dark.

The development was first reported on January 8 by some Ukrainian military bloggers who attributed the information to a Telegram channel allegedly run by a Ukrainian officer. A few weapon tracker groups and accounts tracking the weapons on the battlefield reported that the Shahed drones propelled by jet engines were spotted, marking its first-ever use in the ongoing conflict.

As seen in the images below, the wreckage of the drone appears to comprise several white-colored sections of the drone’s body, including what appears to be the drone’s top-mounted engine intake. The drone also seems to be a small jet turbine. Moreover, the only apparent external markings are “MJO” or “MJ0” written on a portion of the body.

There is no information about where the drone was spotted at the time of writing this report. Moreover, neither the Ukrainian nor the Russian sides have confirmed the deployment of a jet-powered Shahed kamikaze drone yet.

In mid-December, however, a high-ranking Russian military official claimed that Moscow had commenced production of an upgraded version of the Shahed 136, which would be powered by a jet engine. After a successful combat performance last winter, there are indications that Russia has been actively enhancing the lethality of this drone.

At the time, Major General Vladimir Popov, a decorated Russian military pilot, told Sputnik TV that in its previous iteration, the Shahed’s speed range was restricted to 180–200 kilometers per hour, with a maximum speed of 300 kilometers during a dive. This version, widely in use since the fall of 2022, was powered by piston engines from the first generation. 

But now, he noted, that owing to new technological developments, the Shahed version that is currently in use can go at a much faster pace, with a remarkable range of 450–600 kilometers per hour and a maximum speed of 800 kilometers per hour during a dive.

These claims made by the Russian Commander came nearly one month after Iran officially unveiled an updated version codenamed ‘Shahed-238’ of its infamous Shahed “kamikaze drone,” featuring a propulsion system transition from the previous piston-propeller arrangement to a more advanced jet engine.

Even though particular specs of the jet-powered Kamikaze drone were not disclosed, we know that jet propulsion offers far higher speed and faster transit times to targets. When working with time-sensitive targets, this speed advantage becomes quite important, especially as the Ukrainian Air Defense is working round the clock to eliminate these drones before they can reach their designated targets.

The Ukrainian Air Force had previously expressed concerns about the arrival of this new drone variant due to Russia’s substantial deployment of earlier propeller-driven Shahed models in Ukraine. 

The spokesperson of the Ukrainian Air Force, Yuriy Inhat, said earlier, “Now there is news that Iran is producing a new Shahed with a jet engine, with different radar guidance. There are different options… It is painted in a matte black color, which can also complicate the work of visual detection. I don’t know if Russia will receive them, but these countries have such experience.”

However, the drone that was shot down appears in a white-paint scheme.

There is not enough information available about the jet-powered drone that has been shot down by the Ukrainian air defense forces. However, netizens were quick to speculate that these drones were not manufactured in Russia and were acquired by a third party, hinting at Iran. While some reports noted that the engine appeared to be a copy of Czech engines, others said the engine was likely sourced from China. 

A No-Show By Ukrainian Air Defenses

The Ukrainian Air Force said on January 8 that just 18 of the 51 Russian missiles fired overnight at various Ukrainian targets had been shot down and that 33 of the missiles may have reached their intended targets. The latest Russian missile attack claimed at least four lives, according to the Ukrainian military, which referred to the strike as “massive.”

According to Ukrainian air force spokesman Yuriy Ignat, extensively undefended parts of Russia were targeted in Sunday night’s attack, which contributed significantly to the low success rate of Ukraine’s air defense.

General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the head of Ukraine’s armed forces, claimed that both military and civilian infrastructure, as well as the country’s crucial eastern and southern areas, had been targeted. Notably, the strike did not target Kyiv. The capital of Ukraine is safeguarded by multiple systems, including at least one Patriot missile defense system donated by the United States.

Iranian Shahed Drones
Shahed-136 Drone

In other words, Ukrainian air defenses managed to shoot down just 40 percent of incoming missiles and drones, which is less than half the number of projectiles launched by Russia. This has caused a stir online, given that Ukrainian Air defenders claimed to have shot down most missiles and drones launched by Moscow’s troops from late December to early January.

For perspective, Russia launched 158 and 134 projectiles in the two prior big airstrikes on December 29 and January 2, respectively. At the time, the AFU authorities reported a shootdown rate of 81 and 75 percent, respectively.

In a statement released on January 8, Yury Ihnat stated that a major factor contributing to Russia’s victory was a lack of American-made Patriot anti-aircraft missiles, which are needed to defend all of Ukraine’s airspace against hard-to-hit ballistic missiles.

“One has to understand these missiles fly in a ballistic trajectory and that the systems that are capable of intercepting them are, for example, the Patriot. That’s why we have that result today,” Ihnat said. He further explained, “We can’t cover the entire territory of Ukraine with air defense systems so that no missile ever gets through. We defend areas locally, on probable approach routes, and where we have troops and things like that.