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$20,000 Drones vs. $3M Anti-Air Missiles

Updated: May 23, 2023

$20,000 Shahed -136 Drone vs. $3M Patriot Anti-Air Defense Missile - Do the math!


Putting geopolitics aside for the moment, the Russia–Ukraine war has been a testing ground for some of the West’s most sophisticated weapons and has yielded some interesting insights into modern warfare.

Ukraine’s U.S.-trained army, flush with tens of thousands of Western-provided anti-tank guided missiles and other advanced NATO weapons, had great initial success in foiling Russia’s plan to take Kyiv in 10 days. And not only did Russia fail to take Kyiv, but Ukraine also launched a successful counterattack that set Russia’s badly outnumbered initial invasion force back on its heels, forcing Russia to retreat back into the Donbas region of which it currently controls some 80 percent.

However, even as Russia is activating and training hundreds of thousands more troops, it has used and continues to use cheap Iranian-built Shahed-131 and Shahed-136 drones to successfully strike hundreds of infrastructure targets and military targets throughout Ukraine. These drones are inexpensive, $20,000 or less, with the larger of the two thought to have a range greater than 1,000 miles. Of course, not all Russian drones have been successful in striking their targets, with many getting shot down by Ukrainian air defenses.

A report by the Guardian analyzing the use of the Shahed-136s estimates it cost Ukraine $28.14 million to shoot down 161 Shahed-136s. The high cost of shooting down drones comes from the fact that many of the weapons being used to shoot down drones are far more expensive than the drones themselves. For example, a single S-300 missile costs approximately $1 million, a single National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS) anti-air missile costs $1.2 million, and a single Patriot air defense missile costs between $3 million and $4 million.

For Russia, the Shahed and other inexpensive drones have become their remote weapon of choice, their low-cost allowing Russia to launch many at each target knowing that a few will get through. As an added bonus for Russia, each Shahed shot down by a vastly more expensive S-300 or NASAMS anti-air missile depletes Ukraine’s stock of ...........

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