Sources revealed to Defense Express that Ukrainian specialists managed to lay their hands on at least one almost intact Shahed-136 kamikaze drone launched by russians on Ukraine. This drone was found after another series of air attacks: it fell to the ground due to malfunction but the impact wasn't enough to trigger the warhead – so the Ukrainian technicians had a rare opportunity to disassemble and study it in detail.
According to the preliminary data, this aerial drone lost control and fell due to engine problems. And the issues with the engine, in turn, happened because the russians simply filled it with substandard fuel, thus it started to fail mid-flight.
Read more: Difference Between Older Shahed-136 and New Batch Revealed by Ukrainian Trophy Researchers
This episode becomes all the more interesting if we consider that just yesterday the British Conflict Armament Research (CAR) group released a report on Shahed drones of their own. The experts in dismantling russian weapons say they managed to gather new evidence that the Shahed-136 is equipped with MD-550 engines of iranian manufacture assembled at Mado in iran. Such engines were used not only in the drones launched in the attacks against Ukrainian infrastructure in 2022–2023 but also in Saudi Arabia in 2019.
By the way, the CAR investigation mentions that one of the distinct features of MD-550 engines is the spark plug that was also discovered by the Ukrainian military. This and other findings inside Shahed and ZALA drones were broken down by Defense Express in a dedicated article.
The technology for making MD-550 was stolen by iranians when they captured a Limbach Flugmotoren L-550 aircraft engine of German manufacture in 2006. The MD-550 is in fact a counterfeit copy of the L-550.
If we take a closer look at the features of the original German L-550, we'll see an interesting picture.
The L-550 is a four-cylinder two-stroke aircraft engine that works on gasoline-based aviation fuel that was created in the 1980s specifically for mass production and wide use in ultralight aviation or unmanned aerial vehicles. The German L-550 has proven itself as the best in its class but it required very meticulous maintenance.
The possibility that iranians could go out of their way and make it simpler is unlikely – here we explained why by using an analogy with missile technologies.
Based on the fact an L-550 costs USD 12,000 to 17,000 in the open world market, the iranian copy cannot be significantly cheaper, for at least the sanction regime that puts an additional financial toll on all procurement operations.
That makes the earlier suggestions that a Shahed-136 costs around $20,000 or less per unit doubtful as it would be unreasonable if the engine alone made up such a big portion of the total price.