European countries are delivering the latest weaponry including anti-tank missiles to Ukraine to bolster its defense against the invading Russian troops. NATO member Turkey has also done its part and has reportedly strengthened Ukrainian offensive capabilities by sending more Bayraktar TB-2 drones.
On March 2, Ukraine’s defense minister Oleksiy Reznikov announced that new combat-ready TB2s had arrived in the country as part of a larger international military assistance package.
“New Bayraktars have already arrived in Ukraine and have been put into service. More Stingers and Javelins are to come,” Reznikov said. Many European countries, including the UK, Germany, and Sweden, have recently pledged that they will send weapons to Ukraine in response to the Russian invasion, which began on February 24, 2022.
The minister’s comment came a day after the Turkish Air Force Airbus A400M transport plane was seen flying from Ankara to Poland. Ukraine was known to have received six TB2s from Turkey before the Russian invasion. Reznikov did not disclose any information about the number of drones provided or the specific model.
In 2019, Ukraine began ordering Bayraktars from Turkey. Both the Ukrainian Air Force and Navy have received a total of around 20 drones. The TB2, Ukraine’s only UCAV, first saw action in October 2021, when it was deployed to target and destroy a separatist D-30 122 mm artillery in the breakaway Donbass region.
Kyiv claims TB2s destroyed multiple Russian ground vehicles, including Buk surface-to-air missile systems, and shared several videos.
In recent years, the TB2 Bayraktar has been deployed to the Middle East. The Turkish government has used this drone against Syrian and Kurdish forces. It was also used by the Azerbaijani military against Armenian forces during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in 2020. The UCAV was then credited with successfully hitting Armenian air defense systems and tanks.
Ukraine claims these drones are inflicting extensive damage to Russia’s military assets. Russian tanks and other armored vehicles were purportedly destroyed in these drone attacks. While these claims are yet to be verified, estimates based on photographic evidence by open-source intelligence suggest hundreds have been lost.
A video that went viral on Twitter on February 27 night shows a massive explosion destroying a Russian convoy. It also purportedly smashed a surface-to-air missile system.
Байрактари в роботі. Наші оператори ювелірно криють колони ворожих військ. Знищено російський БУК в районі Малина Житомирської області.
Бійтеся, вороги! Не буде вам спокою на нашій землі!https://t.co/P5fCPeWTB8 pic.twitter.com/dH2UEUbKST
— ВОЇНИ УКРАЇНИ🇺🇦 (@ArmedForcesUkr) February 27, 2022
The black-and-white video, which was shared to the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ twitter account, is one of numerous that have surfaced on social media in recent days. In other videos shared on Twitter, Bayraktar drones are seen blowing up what looks to be a Russian gasoline convoy and a group of supply vehicles.
Bayraktar TB2 нейтралізував 🇷🇺 військовий ешелон із пальним
Разом переможемо! pic.twitter.com/1neR5Tapvq
— ВОЇНИ УКРАЇНИ🇺🇦 (@ArmedForcesUkr) February 28, 2022
TB2s Role In Current Conflict
Experts believe Ukraine’s drone campaign has contributed to the country’s early victories in delaying Russian advance. More importantly, social media videos are becoming a major component of Ukraine’s information war. It offers a crucial boost to Ukrainian morale amid worries of an impending defeat.
Ukraine praised the drone attacks as “jewelry work of Bayraktar TB2 crews.” Local media reports have hailed aerial this UCAV for purportedly destroying hundreds of Russian armored vehicles, missile systems, and trucks since the conflict began.
Ukrainian Chief of the General Staff:
"Traditionally jewelry work of Bayraktar TB2 crews"
— Global News (@GlobalNewsEU) March 1, 2022
According to Robert Lee, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, Russia possessed the power to destroy TB2s on the ground and at airfields at the start of the conflict but failed to do so for some reason.
Moreover, it appears that their air defenses, which accompany ground forces into battle, were not equipped to face the TB2. Not fully clear why that is, he told Middle-East Eye.
Footage posted by the Ukrainian military shows that the TB2s were not threatened by any air defense systems. So far, evidence suggests that most sorties were carried out without difficulty and without reprisal.
Still, there’s little doubt over the Bayraktar planes’ effectiveness in Ukraine, said Paul T. Levin, director of the Stockholm University Institute for Turkish Studies.
“There were many skeptics about the Turkish made Bayraktar TB2 drones’ ability to go up against the Russian military machinery in Ukraine,” he tweeted. “So far, however, it appears to have done rather well for the Ukrainians.”
There is a counter-view, which indicates that these drones are unlikely to alter the war’s long-term trajectory. Sam Bendett, a Russian military expert who works as an adviser to the CNA think tank, previously said, “The Russian military has claimed that Bayraktars will not necessarily be a big threat to a force like Russia, because of Russia’s advanced early warning radars, advanced electronic warfare capabilities, and its layered air defense.”
That said, it is too early to reach a conclusion about TB2’s capability in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict.