Ukraine: the TB2 drone, Kiev’s air weapon against Russian firepower

“The invaders came to us in Ukraine […] We have only one comment to repeat to them: Bayraktar, Bayraktar! The Bayraktar TB2 is the new standard of the Ukrainian army, which has even dedicated a song to its glory. This Turkish-made drone has become the symbol of the aerial resistance of the Ukrainian troops against the Russian invader. At the beginning of the fighting, the Ukrainians attributed to this combat drone the destruction of a dozen armored vehicles, missile systems and Russian trucks through videos shared on social networks.

A device thus transformed into a propaganda tool, Moscow responded to Kiev by awarding for the first time in this conflict the title of “Hero of Russia” to the commander of the anti-aircraft battalion that destroyed 2 Bayraktar TB2 drones.

A cheap drone

Durable and lightweight, the 650kg machine can fly for 27 hours at over 220km/h. Under its 12-meter wingspan, it can carry light laser-guided missiles and hit fixed or moving targets up to ten kilometers away. With the ability to fly multiple drones simultaneously, it is a formidable reconnaissance and intelligence device that can only operate over a range of 150 km.

Achievements that set it apart from its American competitor, the MQ9 Reaper, which notably equips the French military, or the Chinese-made Wing Loong II. More complete devices that benefit from a much greater impact force than the TB2. The advantage of the TB2 is that it is cheap and even cheap, because about 30 times cheaper than an MQ9. anonymity, for whom Turkey has “reinvented the Kalashnikov of the 21st century”, referring to the universal AK47 assault rifle cheap and easy to use.

Ankara crumples Moscow

The Bayraktar TB2s entered the service of the Ukrainian army after an initial contract signed with Turkey in 2019. According to experts, Kiev has about twenty of these aircraft, flagships of the Turkish military industry, among which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has become the best VRP on the planet, already sold in fifteen countries. In a few years, Turkey has established the reputation of its drones in the market with a series of conflicts that have provided it with so many showcases. In Nagorny Karabakh, in November 2020, Turkish drones contributed to a decisive turn in favor of Azerbaijan against Armenia.

After a first use in the Dombass in April 2021, Ukraine announced that it wanted to purchase 24 new Turkish devices. A commercial relationship fueling tensions between Ankara and Moscow, with the Kremlin fearing the use of TB2 by Ukrainian forces against pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. For example, during a telephone conversation in December 2021, Vladimir Putin had informed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Turkey was carrying out a “provocative” and “destructive” action.

Russian Air Force Superiority

“Drones have made a difference in these conflicts in Nagorny-Karabakh, Syria or Libya, but it will not be the same in Ukraine,” explains AFP Sinan Ülgen, director of the Edam research center in Istanbul. “For these drones to be truly effective, they need to operate in an environment free from aerial threats. This was the case at these other theaters. Not in Ukraine,” he warns, as Russia uses advanced electronic warfare systems. For him, these machines will “be able to target scattered Russian equipment, but not the most important and best-protected targets”, especially around Kiev.

Twenty drones, “even very effective, it’s not enough to change the course of the war,” endorsed Mark Cancian, adviser to the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “Let’s not forget that the Russians have an arsenal estimated at 500 drones, many of which have a better capacity than Ukraine’s,” he added. “Russia certainly uses them too.” And in the theoretical contradiction between Ukrainian and Russian aviation, Kiev is incomparable: 132 bombers with zero, 832 fighters with 86, 358 transport planes against 63, according to figures from Janes, a British research center specializing in war.

With AFP