Ukraine’s Turkish drones put in spotlight by Russian war – Since the conflict began there has been a focus on the fate of Ukraine’s two dozen Bayraktar drones.
By SETH J. FRANTZMAN JERUSALEM POST – MARCH 1, 2022
One of the emerging stories in the Ukraine conflict is the ability of the embattled country to keep its Turkish-made armed drones flying. The Bayraktar drone is a relatively new armed drone technology created by Turkey’s local arms industry. Ankara has used the drones in Syria and Libya and their success there led to increasing sales abroad in the last several years.
Since the conflict began there has been a focus on the fate of Ukraine’s two dozen Bayraktar drones. Ukraine doesn’t have a large air force and it was expected that Russia could gain air supremacy quickly over Kyiv. However, a week into the war, it is not clear if Russia has succeeded. Reports say that Moscow has not committed most of its air force. On the other hand, Ukrainian pilots seem less active – and on February 28, Russia did say it controlled the skies.
The Bayraktar TB2 that Ukraine uses has a length of only six meters and a wingspan of 12 meters. It weighs around 650 kg and can carry around 65 kg of munitions, usually including four missiles. The US Reaper drone by comparison weighs three times as much at about 2,000 kg with more than 21 times the payload capacity of some 1,400 kg. It can carry seven armaments or other devices, usually four missiles and two bombs. The US Predator, an ancestor of the Reaper, had a weight of some 500 kg and could carry a payload of some 500 kg as well, making it about the same weight as the Bayraktar but with more potential for heavier armaments.
Russia has amassed long convoys of vehicles to enter Ukraine, including one that stretches dozens of kilometers. If Ukraine’s air force was active Russia wouldn’t be so obvious. However, Ukrainian social media has said the Ukrainian drones are still active in striking trains, convoys and vehicles of Russian aggressors.
Middle East Eye, which tends to be pro-Turkey, noted on February 28 that “footage released by the Ukrainian military over the weekend indicated that TB2s were operating against Moscow’s forces, destroying long Russian military columns in Kherson, near Kyiv. Dozens of lives and equipment were reportedly lost in the Bayraktar strikes.”
Pro-Ankara media has an interest in talking up the drones because it’s a good way to prove they can survive in contested airspace. Slow moving armed drones, like the Reaper, can’t perform well in areas where an enemy has air defense. This is because they don’t have a way to avoid radar and they don’t fly fast.
According to the website Defense-Blog.com, the drones continue to carry out strikes. “According to the chief of Ukraine’s Air Force Lt. Gen. Mykola Oleshchuk, Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drones have carried out strikes on Russian troops in the Kherson region and near the city of Malyn, about 60 miles northwest of Kyiv,” the website noted.
Video posted on social media shows several such strikes. It is difficult to confirm or geolocate them. Reports generally place the strikes on the Crimea front line. This means they are not stalking the main Russian thrust at Kyiv where the 60 km of Russian vehicles have been seen, but are hitting the soft underbelly of the Russian offensive. Although that doesn’t mean Russia doesn’t have air defense in Crimea, it should have air defense there to protect the Russian fleet.
That the Ukrainian drones are doing sorties from western or southern Ukraine seems apparent. They supposedly have a range of thousands of kilometers but need communications links. The distance from western Ukraine to Crimea is around 800 km.
Ukraine’s Turkish drones are therefore turning out to be an important aspect of the invaded county’s defense against its huge and powerful northeastern neighbor.