Amid intense fighting and repeated drone strikes by both sides, the wreckage of a downed Ukrainian kamikaze drone powered by a jet engine and wielding a high explosive warhead was photographed for the first time in Russia.
On February 7, social media handles released images allegedly obtained by some Russian sources. It was, however, not revealed how the drone was downed — by a Russian air defense or an Electronic Warfare system.
Since the drone has been photographed for the first time, there are currently no details about the system, not even its name. However, it once again indicates how Ukraine is actively developing long-range, one-way attack drones to confront Russia head-on.
The primary information provided by the multiple images made public is that the drone was a long-range kamikaze model driven by a 10,000 Euro German JetCat P400-PRO jet engine. With the inlet in the belly, the jet engine is situated in the aft fuselage beneath the vertical tail.
In one photograph, the warhead with shrapnel could be seen very clearly. Russian military bloggers have also reported that the drone is made of wood with fiberglass skin and some carbon-fiber components.
The ruSSian sources report that Ukraine has begun using new kamikaze jet drones with high-explosive fragmentation warheads.
These are high-quality drones.
Photo #3 is the warhead with shrapnel.
Photo #4 German JetCat P400-PRO jet engine. pic.twitter.com/lrRhr37FZU
— 𝔗𝔥𝔢 𝔇𝔢𝔞𝔡 𝔇𝔦𝔰𝔱𝔯𝔦𝔠𝔱 🇬🇪🇺🇦🇺🇲🇬🇷 (@TheDeadDistrict) February 7, 2024
OSINT analyst H.I. Sutton wrote on his website, “The vehicle has a clean delta configuration with a single vertical tail. It is similar in size to other OWA-UAVs. My provisional estimate is that it is 3 meters (10 feet) long and has a wingspan of 2.5 meters (8 feet). The wings appear to be detachable for transport and storage.”
Further, Sutton observed that the drone “appears typical of what I view as a second generation of Ukrainian OWA-UAVs.”
He explained that “something is better than nothing” served as the foundation for the first generation. They were frequently modified from target drones or other UAV initiatives. In contrast, the second generation is more suited for field operations and mass production since it integrates lessons learned. They frequently have bigger warheads and are also more powerful.
It appears that, like many other drones of its type, it is independently flown by autopilot to strike a pre-selected set of coordinates because there is no evidence of a targeting system.
Military experts and enthusiasts watching the Ukraine war have observed that the warhead bears a striking resemblance to the one carried by the UJ-26 Beaver, another Ukrainian long-range one-way attack drone that uses a propellor and has been extensively deployed by Ukraine in the ongoing war.
Ukraine has other jet-powered drones in its arsenal. For instance, Ukrainian manufacturer UkrJet produces the UJ-25 Skyline UAV, a stealthy drone powered by a jet engine. It is a spy drone often employed for identifying positions of Russian anti-aircraft and air defense systems deployed along the frontline.
Moreover, in January this year, a few media reports hinted that Ukraine had produced a brand-new, jet-powered explosive drone capable of striking far inside Russia.
Later, a video of a drone styled like a missile with more enormous wings at the back and smaller wings at the front was also posted, which analysts said appeared to be using a trolley-launching mechanism like the Beaver drones. This suggests that Kyiv is fast-producing attack drones with jet engines that provide more range and speed.
Although the recently photographed drone’s performance is not known, its high speed and difficult-to-detect design, which includes its shape, absence of exposed parts, small size, and composite and wood construction, are intriguing.
Ukraine has been using an ever-expanding fleet of other long-range, one-way attack drones that it has purchased from different sources to target locations, frequently located deep within Russia. The “kamikaze” drones are equipped with explosives that can penetrate well behind enemy lines and are made to travel great distances.
Experts believe that drones with jet engines have the potential to revolutionize the industry because of their increased speed, which makes it more difficult for air defenses to shoot down. This is also the reason why Russia has been using jet-powered Shahed drones to strike targets inside Ukraine with much more impunity than the propeller-driven Shaheds.
Russia’s Jet-Powered Shahed-136
Late last year, a high-ranking Russian military official claimed that Moscow had commenced production of an upgraded version of the Shahed 136 or Geranium 2, powered by a jet engine.
Major General Vladimir Popov, a veteran Russian military pilot, told Sputnik TV at the time that the Shahed’s speed range had been limited to 180–200 kilometers/hour, with a maximum speed of 300 kilometers/hour during a dive. Piston engines powered this version from the first generation, and it has been widely used since the fall of 2022.
He did point out that the Shahed version currently in service can now go at a significantly faster pace, with a phenomenal range of 450–600 kilometer/h and a maximum speed of 800 kilometers/hour during a dive, thanks to recent technological advancements.
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.
A few days later, a set of photographs of wreckage posted on social media in January 2024 suggested that the Russian military had started using the jet-powered Shahed-238 kamikaze drones to hit targets inside Ukraine.
/2. Additional footages pic.twitter.com/aiWbN7tdCZ
— Special Kherson Cat 🐈🇺🇦 (@bayraktar_1love) January 8, 2024
Due to Russia’s extensive deployment of older propeller-driven Shahed variants, the Ukrainian Air Force had previously voiced concerns about introducing this new drone variant.
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.”
Moreover, 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.
Despite the high costs and time taken in production, both sides have been acquiring and producing jet-powered drones to increase their strike rate against hostile targets.