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Belarus and Iran's joint exploration of Shahed drone production to support Russia's war effort

According to an article published by the ISW on July 31, 2023, Belarus and Iran have been exploring the possibility of an agreement for the production of Shahed drones. This development could have significant implications for the region and the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian conflict.
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The Iranian kamikaze drone Shahed (Picture source

On July 31, 2023, Belarusian Defense Minister Lieutenant General Viktor Khrenin visited Iran for an official meeting with Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Ashtiani. During this meeting, a Memorandum of Understanding and a bilateral military cooperation plan for 2023 were signed, indicating a growing partnership in defense matters between the two countries.

As Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Ashtiani is responsible for negotiating military acquisitions and sales, it is plausible that arms deals were discussed during the meeting between the defense ministers. Initial reports have suggested that Iran expressed interest in converting a plant in Belarus' Gomel Oblast into a production facility for Shahed drones. However, the specifics of any potential agreement are yet to be explored further.

According to an article by the Jerusalem Post on November 25, 2022, Israel has taken steps to raise awareness among the international community about rising concerns over Iranian arms exports to Russia. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs reportedly shared intelligence dossiers with various countries and international organizations, detailing Iranian arms transfers to Russia. The objective was to garner diplomatic pressure on Iran and discourage its involvement in Russia's war efforts.

Iran's plans to increase arms shipments to Russia, including drones and surface-to-surface missiles, have been a cause for concern. These transfers have been conducted via air and sea routes, utilizing airlines owned by the Iranian regime and maritime routes in the Caspian Sea. The possibility of Iranian drone production in Belarus could offer Russia a more accessible route to obtain these drones and enhance its military capabilities in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

If the reported agreement for Shahed drone production in Belarus materializes, it could signal a significant development in the strategic alliance between Russia and Iran. Establishing a production line in Belarus would enable Russia to efficiently replenish its arsenal with cost-effective yet potent weapons systems. The Shahed drones have already played a crucial role in Russia's military campaign in Ukraine, overwhelming Ukrainian air defenses and targeting key locations.

The reported exploration of this agreement between Belarus and Iran for Shahed drone production represents a noteworthy development in their defense cooperation. As both countries continue to support Russia in the ongoing Ukrainian conflict, the potential for joint drone production raises concerns and adds complexity to regional dynamics. The international response and diplomatic efforts to address Iran's arms exports will play a pivotal role in shaping the outcomes of this situation. The implications of this agreement could have far-reaching consequences for the region and beyond.

The HESA Shahed 136, also known as Geran-2 in Russian service, is an Iranian loitering munition—an autonomous kamikaze drone designed to engage ground targets from a distance. Manufactured by Shahed Aviation Industries, it features a cropped delta-wing shape with stabilizing rudders at the tips and a central fuselage blending into the wings. The drone carries a warhead in the nose section, weighing approximately 30 to 50 kg, and measures 3.5 m in length with a wingspan of 2.5 m. It can reach speeds of over 185 km/h and has an operational range estimated between 970 to 2,500 km.

The Shahed 136 is deployed in batches from a launch rack, potentially overwhelming enemy air defenses during the attack. Its portability allows the entire unit to be mounted on the back of military or commercial trucks.

For guidance, the drone utilizes GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) and INS (Inertial Navigation System). After launch, it is assisted by rocket launch assistance (RATO), following which its conventional Iranian-made Mado MD-550 four-cylinder piston engine takes over.

In terms of electronics, it is speculated that the munition may use components from various manufacturers, including Altera from the United States, RF modules by Analog Devices, and LDO (Low Dropout) chips by Microchip Technology. Captured drones used by Russia during the 2022 Ukrainian invasion indicated the use of foreign-made components, such as a Texas Instruments processor, a Polish-made fuel pump, and a voltage converter from China.

When used by Russia, the Geran-2 (Shahed 136 in Russian service) may have some modifications, potentially including Russian-manufactured flight control units and microprocessors. It is suggested that it may use additional steering methods compared to the standard Iranian Shahed 136.

The Shahed 136 has been deployed in various conflicts, including the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine and strikes against Ukrainian infrastructure during 2022–2023. Additionally, there are allegations of the Houthis using the drone.

Visually, it shares similarities with the smaller Shahed 131, with the main difference being its wingtip stabilizers extending up and down, whereas the Shahed 131 has stabilizers that only extend upwards.

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