Russia is using Iranian parts to build thousands of kamikaze drones in a massive secret military base, leaked documents have shown.
Engineers at the Alabuga facility in Tatarstan, roughly 500 miles east of Moscow, in the heart of Russia, are attempting to produce around 6,000 upgraded drones by 2025.
It could mean hundreds of “Shahed” drones being directed toward Ukrainian targets at a time.
They are currently in the second stage of a three-part development; the final phase will involve an all-Russian production line.
It is the latest programme put forward by the Kremlin to ensure the “special military operation” in Ukraine can continue.
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The programme was a closely-guarded state secret, despite taking place at a facility the size of 14 football pitches that is due to be expanded even further.
Documents show that employees, some of whom have had their passports seized to stop them leaving the country, have been using code names to refer to the top secret project.
Drones are “boats”, their explosives are “bumpers”, while Iran is alternately “Ireland” or “Belarus”.
The production is being carried out in accordance to a three-part timetable, which began in 2023.
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The Alabuga team rebuilt dismantled drones from Iran in the first instance, before moving to a second phase, which they are currently carrying out, producing the bodies of the vehicles themselves but equipping them with Iranian electronics.
By early next year, the facility will begin building drones using Russian materials and components.
Alabuga engineers have apparently upgraded the imported drones, making them waterproof and replacing unreliable Chinese components.
They plan to make them capable of executing a joint strike by swarming a target, and intend to produce these models on a larger scale and to a higher standard than the original Shaheds.
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But the programme has been delayed by Russia’s bureaucratic defence ministry. By February, it was already more than five weeks behind schedule.
It has also been beset by logistical problems. When the team arranged for lorries to transport the first delivery of drones from an airport, they found they did not have a forklift to load the heavy crates.
The team then chartered a forklift from a local business only to find out that none of them were qualified to operate it.
This week, the UK Ministry of Defence said that Moscow has “almost certainly” deployed domestically-built drones based on the Iranian Shahed model.
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