US Military’s Fatal Mistake: How Cheap Suicide Drones Breached Air Defenses – Part 2
Shahed-136, 50kg warhead·1,553 miles flight
The Islamic Resistance, an organization that encompasses pro-Iranian militia forces operating in Iraq, claimed responsibility for this attack. They declared it a retaliation for the U.S. military’s attack on the militia Kata’ib Hezbollah in the south of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, on the 23rd.
Kata’ib Hezbollah has been continuously launching rocket and suicide drone attacks against the U.S. military, including attacking the Al Asad Air Base in western Iraq used by the U.S. military since last November. Earlier, on the morning of the 23rd, the U.S. military had destroyed two bases, including the headquarters, weapons depots, and suicide drone control training facilities of Kata’ib Hezbollah.
The Iranian-made Shahed-136 suicide drone that gained fame this time is already well known as a representative weapons system threatening the Ukrainian air defense network, which Russia has been sending all over Ukraine. The Shahed-36 drone weighs 200kg, is 3.5m long, and has a wingspan of 2.5m. Its maximum speed is 115 miles per hour, which is slightly slow. However, with a maximum flight distance of approximately 1,553 miles, it poses a significant threat as it can fly all over Ukraine.
It is called a suicide drone because it flies at a low altitude and attacks by directly hitting the detected target. The disadvantage is that it uses a noisy Chinese engine so that it can be easily detected by the enemy from miles away as a drone attack. The advantage is that it is not easy to detect by radar due to low-altitude flight. The price per unit is only $20,000.
With the importance of drones being highlighted in modern warfare due to the war between Ukraine and Russia, countries around the world have started to develop and introduce suicide drones feverishly.
According to data from the U.S. Bard College Drone Research Center, the number of suicide drones owned by countries around the world has surged from 35 in 8 countries in 2017 to 210 in 32 countries last year. It has been reported that South Korea is also operating suicide drones for assassination purposes in the so-called Beheading Unit, the Special Warfare Command’s Special Operations Brigade.
The most attractive point is that the cost-to-kill ratio is large, as the price per unit is only a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. For example, the number of Houthi drones shot down by the U.S. military in the Red Sea area from November to December last year is around 40. However, the price per shot of the SM-2 ship-to-air missile mounted on the Aegis-equipped ship, which the U.S. military fired to block one such drone, is $2.1 million, raising concerns about inefficiency within the U.S. military.
Establishment of ‘Drone Unit’ in Ukraine against Russia
What’s more, if many rockets or missiles are mixed with suicide drones that quickly approach at low altitudes, it is possible to incapacitate the enemy’s air defense network. Even though they know this, in the case of Ukraine, they are using the advanced surface-to-air missile NASAMS worth $500,000, which the U.S. supported to defend against Russian suicide drones and others.
Experts evaluate the war in Ukraine as a war of drones against drones. Russia mainly uses the Iranian drone Shahed-136. It can carry a warhead weighing 30-50kg. In response, Ukraine has even established a drone unit to deploy various drones on the battlefield. It is known to use small drones that cost only about $500 mainly.
What is clear is that the advent of suicide drones has completely changed the landscape of traditional warfare, where armored units composed of tanks and armored vehicles rushed and exchanged shells.