Iran officially unveiled a new version of the famous Shahed-136 suicide drone, powered by a jet engine instead of using piston propellers like its predecessor.

Images of the new drone were released by official Iranian media on November 20, 2023. The modified version is named Shahed-238. Analysts say that this UAV will have a greater speed and service ceiling than the Shahed-136 thanks to being equipped with a jet engine.

The new drone model on display has a new guidance system that appears to use an infrared optical guidance system. Previous Shahed models mainly used inertial navigation combined with GPS to attack fixed targets. Developed based on the Shahed-136 model that Russia has widely used in Ukraine, the three Shahed-238s at the exhibition represent three different guidance options, including the standard model with an autonomous guidance system based on inertial navigation and GPS signals, variants with infrared/optical and presumably radar guidance systems were also displayed.

The drone with its radar guidance head could serve as an analogy to anti-radar missiles that target emissions from search radars. This capability might be effective in neutralizing and breaching enemy air defense systems. The fuselages of all three drones are unusually black for Iranian UAVs, suggesting the use of radar-absorbing materials, although there is no official confirmation yet.

While it is not known whether the drones have entered mass production in Iran, it won’t be long until that stage, given Tehran’s efforts to have a large and diverse inventory of UAVs. It would also be interesting to see if Russia adopts the jet engine feature on its Shahed-136 clone, the Geranium-2 (Geran-2).

Interestingly, jet-powered advancements of the Shahed-136 can be considered only a logical progression after Iranian state media unveiled the version in late September. The original pusher-propeller drones were powered by the MD550 piston engine, producing a distinctive sound. The drone’s sound earned them the moniker “scooter.”

What kind of turbojet engine powers the drone is unclear. Analysts, however, believe it could be a commercially available “hobby” engine sold to aviation and remote-controlled aircraft enthusiasts, with Iranian engineers possibly reverse engineering the simple power plant and mass producing it with their tweaks and modifications. However, precise information and the engine specifications remain unclear. Like its predecessor, the Shahed-136, the drone is expected to retain the capability of being launched from a stationary platform using a solid-fuel booster. Referring to this drone, Iran Defense posted on November 13, saying this Shahed-136 “would serve as Iran’s high end, more expensive loitering munition, with jet engine & EO ball for locating targets.” It will also be interesting to see the extent of foreign and American components in the new drones, given stunning revelations over the last few months about how Western electronics continue to find their way into weapons made by heavily sanctioned countries. A report in The Washington Post identified that nearly 90 percent of drone computer chips and electrical devices originated in the West and the US.

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