Russia appears to be using 'teenagers' to build Iranian drones

According to various news outlets, Russia looks to be recruiting teenagers to help build its fleet of Iranian loitering munition drones called Geran-2s.
Christopher McFadden
Satellite image of what is purported to be the factory.

Google Maps 

Various news outlets report that Russia's Geran-2 (its domestically-produced version of the Iranian "Shahed-136" loitering munition drone) production facility allegedly uses teenagers from Russia and abroad for assembly. First reported by the Russian human rights group Protokol, young workers are allegedly paid poorly in what has been termed a "forced labor scheme." The factory in the Alabuga Special Economic Zone in the Republic of Tatarstan was recently refurbished for 80 billion rubles (equivalent to $806 million) to build 2,000 "boats" annually.

Teenage-built war drones

This new "boat" factory was launched by Alexey Florov, director of Albatross LLC drone firm. The plant is assembling 70 Geran-2 drones per month from Iranian-supplied kits. Teenagers aged 15 to 17 from the Alabuga Polytechnic College apparently work 12-hour shifts for about $350 monthly. However, the goal of "boat productions" has not been met, with no more than 300 drones delivered by August.

This is also interesting, as the original Iranian drones were allegedly developed, in part, by students at British Universities, as we reported earlier this year.

Popular Mechanics reports that this program claims to be a volunteer work-study, but students who refuse to participate are expelled and fined up to $4,200. Students report working seven days a week with limited access to food. This institution expels students based on performance and participation in patriotic paintball games. Teenage girls from Africa and Central Asia are recruited through dating apps for low-skill service jobs.

Female guest workers from Central Asia, who may have been recruited based on their familiarity with Farsi spoken in Iran, are said to also have their passports confiscated upon arrival to discourage quitting.

A report by The Washington Post indicates that 25% of assembly kits sent by Iran arrive damaged, and Russia is forced to buy less effective Shahed-131 kits (also known as "little boats"). Actual local production is set to start in 2024, with automated assembly lines to follow. The factory will expand to 1,076,391 ft2 (100,000 m2), 2.5 times its current size.

Game of numbers

The reliability of one-way drones is not subject to great scrutiny, making it a “perfect scam” to cut costs using forced labor. Factory owners can request huge sums for long-term investments, which may not fulfill their advertised purposes. Documentation indicates that experienced Russian drone builders rejected the Shahed-building project due to limited potential profits from building cut-price drones.

Russia is using inexpensive "Shahed-136" drones to divert fire away from more expensive missiles, forcing Ukraine to commit significant resources to air defense. The Alabuga factory now produces 200 drones monthly. That's enough to launch seven drones daily in Ukrainian cities indefinitely and sustainably. However, Russia still relies on Iranian-supplied kits until it can establish partial Russian production.

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