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FLASH ALERT: SWARMS OF SUICIDE DRONES HIT KYIV

Yannik Hunold, Isaiah Johnson, Martina Sclaverano, W/T Team, Matthew Bauer, Peter Roberto, Elvire Vérant, EUCOM Team

Justin Maurina, Editor; Manja Vitasovic, Senior Editor

October 18, 2022

Wreckage of Iranian-made Shahed-136, reportedly shot down near Kharkiv region, Ukraine[1]


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) is issuing a FLASH ALERT for Ukrainian cities, like Kyiv and Mykolaiv, after 28 drones struck critical infrastructure, damaging energy facilities and residential buildings in Kyiv, killing four people. According to Ukrainian intelligence, Russia bought2,400 drones from Iran, which are also used in Ukraine.[2] Russia will almost certainly continue to use Shahed-136 drones due to their advantageous cost-effectiveness in targeting critical infrastructures, military bases, and residential buildings. This will very likely increase the death toll and material damage in Ukraine.


CTG is on HIGH alert after 28 drones struck Kyiv, indicating a HIGH likelihood of future drone strikes in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities. Shahed-136 drones can be fired from mobile launching platforms with a range of 2000km, threatening Ukrainian cities and air defense systems. The number of suicide drone strikes will likely increase significantly due to the relatively cheap cost of the Shahed-136 drone ($20,000) compared to a cruise missile which costs several million. The number of suicide drones launched at key infrastructure will very likely strain or have a roughly even chance of overwhelming Ukrainian air defense systems and define the war’s outcome.

On October 17, 2022, Iranian-produced Shahed-136 drones struck Kyiv in waves of 28 drones[3] reportedly hitting civilian infrastructure like residential buildings, killing four people.[4] The drones came from south of Kyiv, with the Ukrainian military reportedly shooting down 13. The use of these drones will very likely become standard in Russian attacks to avoid depleting its decreasing stockpile of long-range precision missiles along with the drone’s ability to accurately hit targets using GPS.[5] Observers suspect that Russia is running low on precision cruise missiles, and these drones are a stop-gap measure until production increases. While flying drones into targets and using them as a missile strike is not new, attacks on this scale likely represent a new phase in the war in Ukraine due to their cost-effectiveness.


Further large-scale drone purchases will almost certainly financially support Iranian research and development of future drone technologies. Iranian drone technology will very likely improve via recorded combat data. Russia is also very likely to reverse engineer the Shahed-136 to accelerate its drone technology. Given the cost-effectiveness of suicide drones, the Russian military will very likely attempt to overwhelm expensive western-supplied weapons used by the Ukrainian military. Other militaries will very likely turn to suicide drones based on observations of their effectiveness in Ukraine, likely leading to more attacks on civilians and more victims in future conflicts.


The Ukrainian military will likely request to purchase anti-drone systems like the Lithuanian EDM4S for individual soldiers. Nations surrounding Russia, like Baltic and Scandinavian countries, will also very likely invest in anti-drone weapons on the platoon level to combat the number of drones instead of a large, fixed system. This allows individual troops to quickly move toward suspected drone strike targets. The Ukrainian defense industry will likely attempt to purchase the Turkish-made Baykar Bayraktar TB2 drone, very likely for use as an anti-drone weapon system during the Russia-Ukraine war, due to its almost certainly superior combat capabilities. Ukrainian drone purchases will likely accelerate the Unmanned Autonomous Vehicles (UAV) arms race and the nature of future conflicts in the region.


The Russian military will almost certainly continue drone strikes on critical infrastructure to decrease Ukrainian morale in its fight against Russia. The Russian military very likely targeted civilian and energy infrastructure to coerce the Ukrainian government into slowing or halting its counteroffensive in eastern and southern Ukraine. This coercive method will unlikely be successful as further Russian attacks on civilian targets will unlikely slow Ukraine's war efforts, but will likely strengthen soldiers’ determination. The Ukrainian military will almost certainly continue counteroffensives, likely causing the Russian military to use suicide drone strikes on the Ukrainian frontline forces.


The injuries and death toll of the Ukrainian civilians and military will almost certainly increase as the suicide drone strikes will very likely continue to increase Ukraine’s emergency response, like ambulances, hospitals, and wreckage search teams will very likely be overwhelmed by the onslaught of Russia’s suicide drone strikes, likely reducing available treatment to those injured during the attacks.


CTG recommends that Ukrainian authorities transport available air defense systems to Kyiv to help shoot down drones attempting to strike targets in the city. Countries supporting Ukraine should increase deliveries of air defense systems to increase Ukraine’s ability to fight against drones in other major Ukrainian cities, like Mykolaiv. Enacting stricter operations security (OPSEC) measures, like limiting social media posts, like TikTok videos, of soldiers filming themselves, aiming to prevent targeting of key military deployments and infrastructure, is important due to the drone's ability to wait for prolonged periods of time before attacking. While small arms fire and conventional air defenses can shoot down the Shahed-136, it will very likely be less efficient than disguising important targets from aerial cameras. Electronic warfare aircraft like the Boeing EA-18G Growler could provide critical electronic countermeasures to disrupt the Shahed-136 drones’ sensors.


CTG assesses that the current threat climate is HIGH because of the increased Russian drone strikes in the past week and insufficient Ukrainian air defense systems in Kyiv. There is a high probability that Russia’s successes in targeting critical infrastructures and fearmongering will push Russian military forces to increase drone usage to destabilize Ukraine further. Increased civilian deaths will very likely occur, and the destruction of critical energy facilities will likely impede a part of the population from heating themselves as winter approaches.


Analysis indicates that there is a HIGH PROBABILITY of Russian success in conducting future drone strikes on Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities. There is a HIGH PROBABILITY Russia will expand its use of drone strikes to attack Ukrainian forces on the frontlines in eastern and southern Ukraine if it continues to receive drones from Iran. This will very likely increase the number of injuries and deaths of the Ukrainian soldiers and defensive issues for the Ukrainian military on the frontline attempting to avoid drone strikes.


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) is a unit of the global risk consulting and security firm Paladin 7. CTG proactively searches for and analyzes the threat of terrorism that comes from International Terrorist Organizations, Domestic Terrorist Organizations, and Individuals determined to inflict terror upon societies, organizations, and individuals. Our international and national security professionals set up protective measures to detect, deter, prevent, discourage, and dissuade any terrorist organization or individual from attacking organizations and individuals. We work to protect our clients from any terrorist threat or attack. We also work proactively with the proper authorities to find those in terrorist organizations and individuals who will cause harm and assist in bringing them to justice and mitigating the threat long-term.

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[1]M214 ГЕPAНЬ-2 drone remnants near Kupiansk, Kharkiv region” by The Strategic Communications Directorate of the Ukrainian Armed Forces licensed by Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International

[2] Waves of suicide drones strike Ukraine’s capital; 4 killed, AP, October 2022 https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-kyiv-social-media-0cc944fef471a425a862728b3dd0d8bc

[3] Suicide Drones strike fear in Ukraine’s Capital, killing 4, Associated Press, October 2022 https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-kyiv-social-media-0cc944fef471a425a862728b3dd0d8bc

[4] Russia hits Ukraine's capital with wave of "kamikaze" drones, NBC, October 2022 https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/kyiv-new-attack-kamikaze-drones-ukraine-says-rcna52496

[5] Ibid

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