Images of a new Iranian drone launcher have appeared online and in Iranian media over the past several days. The drones, dubbed Shahed-136, were combined with missiles in a drill that Iran says took place last week.
Iran has called these types of drones a “suicide drone,” or kamikaze drone. This means they fly into a target and self-destruct.
These types of drones have been mentioned before but have not been shown in such close-up detail.
In January, Tom O’Connor wrote in Newsweek: “Imagery seen by Newsweek and confirmed by an expert who follows Iranian activities in the region indicate the presence of Iranian Shahed-136 loitering munitions, also called ‘suicide drones,’ deployed to the northern Yemeni province of Al-Jawf, an area of the country controlled by the Ansar Allah, or Houthi, Zaidi Shiite Muslim rebel movement.”
This was the first time this type of drone was mentioned in overseas deployment. Prior to this, Iran had built kamikaze drones, but this specific type had not been seen in public military drills.
Based on Tehran’s state-run and semi-official media, we now know the Shahed-136 exists and is not only a kamikaze drone but that Iran has created a new way to launch the drones in a kind of multiple-launch, or drone-swarming, format.
Drone swarms are a new technology whereby multiple drones are used to strike at targets. This can overwhelm air defenses and/or wreak havoc. In the past, drones such as the US Predator were not usually used alongside other drones.
In addition, drones have not often been used to enter contested airspace, such as the well-defended airspace of Israel or Saudi Arabia. This is because drone technology was mostly dominated by the US, Israel and several other countries up until recently. Iran, China and other drone powers have now entered the game.
Iran has invested heavily in kamikaze drone technology, including the types of drones known as Qasef in Yemen and Hamas’s Shehab. These are based on Iranian technology and models. Recent reports from the Alma Research Center have said Hezbollah may have some 2,000 drones – many based on Iranian models.
The new launcher that Iran unveiled in its recent drill appears to have five layers, or racks, on which drones can be fitted before launch. The launcher can be mounted on the back of a truck, so it could be disguised as freight and look like any other commercial truck plying the roads.
Iran’s new launcher for its Shahed-136 ostensibly gives it the ability to not only hide them but to put five drones in these types of converted trucks. It could conceivably launch dozens of these drones at a target in a kind of “swarm.”