Despite three weeks of Russian shelling, Ukraine has maintained a strong defense of its towns by employing Turkish-made drones to launch fatal pop-up strikes on invaders, surprising Western military experts.
The Bayraktar TB2 unmanned aerial vehicles, which carry small, laser-guided bombs, are typically used in low-tech battles, and Turkey has supplied them to over a dozen nations, including Azerbaijan, Libya, Morocco, and Ethiopia.
According to Jack Watling of the Royal United Services Institute in London, the drones carried out surprise effective assaults in the early phases of Ukraine’s fight with Moscow, before the Russians were able to build up their air defenses on the battlefield.
“Because they are medium-altitude, slow-flying aircraft with a huge electromagnetic signature and a large radar cross-section, the (TB2s) shouldn’t have a significant influence.” And, because the Russians have advanced air defense systems, they should be shot down. Watling noted, “The landscape is fairly wide and provides superb radar coverage.”
“They’ve been effectively flying in at a low altitude and then going up and raiding with them,” he added. “Such eye-catching targets of opportunity.”
“The freedom to utilize those drones is dwindling,” Watling said, as the Russians become more coordinated and push out their air defenses. As a result, the Ukrainians are now having to be more cautious about when they commit them.”
On March 9, British Defense Minister Ben Wallace lauded the drones, as well as other weaponry supplied to Ukraine by the West, in a briefing to Parliament.
“One of the ways they’re supplying close air support or actual fire in depth is using Turkish TB2 UAVs, which are delivering munitions onto their artillery and indeed their supply lines, which are vitally essential in slowing or blocking the Russian advance,” Wallace explained.
The drones have also become a hit on social media. Their airborne footage showing Russian armored vehicles being destroyed has become a vital instrument in Ukraine’s propaganda battle.
Ukraine’s ambassador to Turkey, Vasyl Bodnar, posted footage of drone assaults on Twitter, one of which purported to show a convoy of wrecked Russian military vehicles.
In a caption on one of the videos, he wrote “Masallah” or “Praise be.”
A video featuring the song “Bayraktar,” which features explosions synchronized to the rhythms, has been posted to YouTube and broadcast on Ukrainian radio.
“As long as they can fly in, as long as they’re armed, they’ll be valuable.” They’ll be largely good for propaganda,” said Aaron Stein, head of research at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Washington, D.C. “People have been enthralled by the recordings since they can witness an airstrike in high definition.”
In 2019, Turkey began exporting the TB2 drones to Ukraine, which deployed them to battle Russian-backed rebels in the eastern Donbas area, a move Moscow condemned as “destabilizing.”
Turkish officials have declined to reveal specifics about the drone shipments to Ukraine, such as the number of drones sold and whether Kyiv is being resupplied. The number of TB2s in Ukraine is estimated to be between 20 and 50, according to independent estimations.
The drones, which are estimated to cost under $2 million apiece, are made by the Baykar defense firm, which is owned by the family of Selcuk Bayraktar, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s son-in-law. Bayraktar is the chief technological officer of Baykar.
The TB2 is credited as aiding Turkey’s partner Azerbaijan combat Armenian-backed forces in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh area in 2020, as well as in Libya.
The drones have also been deployed by Ankara against Kurdish insurgents in Turkey and northern Iraq, as well as Kurdish forces in Syria.
According to Stein, such low-cost drones are likely to have a long-term influence on warfare as a helpful instrument of attrition as well as a means of attracting the attention of more expensive enemy planes.
“It’s the Toyota Corolla of drones,” says the author. “It doesn’t do everything your high-end sports vehicle does, but everything accomplishes 80% of it,” he explained. “So even for a high-end military like the United States, the core principle of striking a superior force on an attritable, low-cost platform has intrinsic value.”
President Joe Biden announced an extra $800 million in military aid to Ukraine on Wednesday, which includes an undefined number of US-made drones. There are also 800 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, 100 grenade launchers, 20 million rounds of small arms ammo, and grenade launchers and mortar rounds included.
According to a source familiar with the situation who was not allowed to speak publicly, the White House has been considering providing Ukraine access to US-made Switchblade drones that can fly and strike Russian targets. It was unclear if they or other drones would be included in the additional drones that Biden indicated would be supplied to Ukraine.