By Guy Faulconbridge
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian arms maker Kalashnikov, maker of the world's most widely used assault rifle, said on Friday it was launching a new division for the production of kamikaze drones - one of the key weapons used in the Ukraine war.
After Ukrainian forces used Western, Israeli and Turkish uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) with deadly efficiency in the opening months of the war, Russia began using Iranian-made Shahed drones while seeking to boost its own production.
"Kalashnikov is starting new production of UAVs," the Izhevsk-based Kalashnikov, Russia's biggest producer of automatic weapons and guided artillery, said in a statement.
A new division at Kalashnikov will focus on producing so-called loitering munition - or kamikaze drones, which are detonated once a target is identified.
"The main task of the division is the production of complexes with guided loitering munitions. The complexes are designed for high-precision destruction of remote single and group enemy ground targets."
Kalashnikov, named after Mikhail Kalashnikov, designer of the AK-47 assault rifle, will also produce launchers, control technology and research and development.
"In 2024, we will be able to increase by several times the number of UAVs produced in our traditional niche – loitering munitions and reconnaissance drones," Kalashnikov President Alan Lushnikov said. He did not give figures.
Drones - which in an early form were used by the United States in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s - have become a major tool for the military of every major power - collecting intelligence as well as destroying targets.
Ukraine said on Friday Russia had launched 31 drones against it overnight while Moscow reported that two drones had hit the southern Russian city of Krasnodar.
President Vladimir Putin said last month that the Russian drone industry could soon be worth more than $12 billion once a plan to boost production is put into place.
Putin has called for a rise in production of drones. First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov said that by the end of 2026, Russia should be able to make 18,000 drones a year.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Philippa Fletcher)