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Exploring Ukraine's Bayraktar TB2 Drones

Mamerto Adan is a feature writer who is back in college once again. Science is one of his favorite topics.

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If there is one thing to describe how the Russian armed forces performed at the start of the war in Ukraine, it’s probably sloppy. Going back years ago, the U.S. managed to pull-off a smooth and quick occupation of Afghanistan. Later on, Iraq fell to the Coalition Forces, and the world witnessed precision and surgical bombings of command and controls, and an almost unhampered advance of armors to its capital.

In the case of the Russian invasion of Ukraine this 2022, things are different.

In fact, how the Russian military handled the invasion is a complete opposite, as if the anti-thesis of the precise, clean and quick operations of the Coalition Forces.

When the war broke, the world was expecting a fast collapse of Ukraine. Russia probably expected the same thing, until their planes and helicopters began falling from the sky. The intimidating armored units of Russia became prey for Ukraine’s MANPADS, with the Javelin Weapon System gaining infamy as effective tank buster. Then, there is the unexpectedly stiff Ukrainian resistance. Russia was probably caught off-guard by the tenacity of the Ukrainian forces, and the invasion never went according to plan. More than the week since it started, Russia only captured a few cities, while the massive armored convoy stalled. Observers blamed the great invasion stalls to a number of factors, with arrogant and poor planning as one of them. And as people pointed out, Russia will be facing its second Afghanistan even if they managed to take Ukraine. But as the war continue, the Javelin isn’t the only weapon system ravaging the Russian military. Ukraine also operates a small fleet of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles capable of both reconnaissance and combat. The Turkish made Bayraktar TB2.

Drones Are no Toys

Israeli IAI drone.

Israeli IAI drone.

Modern UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) are more than just glorified radio-controlled toys one could get at the hobby stores. Flying in long periods, at great distances and guided not just by radio control isn’t something a regular model plane can do. Plus, modern UAVs could accomplish what science fiction have been warning us. To kill.

Sending an unmanned airborne vehicle wasn’t a new idea. Way before the birth of heavier than aircraft, the Austrians tried to use pilotless balloons to blow Venice in July 1849. These killer balloons were launched from the ground, or from a ship, much like the modern UAV. Yet being balloons with no steering mechanisms, the plan failed miserably when the wind blew them off course. Yet that doesn’t stop the world powers from developing their unmanned flying vehicles, and in the Second World War, the Germans unleashed perhaps the first robot vehicle that could kill. The V-1 flying bomb. Development continued after the war, with drones being used for training practices and surveillance. And it was the Israeli who demonstrated the effective use of modern drones, when it uses the IAI scouts to help neutralize the Syrian air defense. Nevertheless, watching the enemy was the primary use of the drones back then. But drones started to carry weapons.

Targeted Killings

A Predator UAV.

A Predator UAV.

Like many of the UAVs, the MQ-1 Predator was made for long endurance reconnaissance missions. Later on, it began to carry designators for laser guided bombs from manned aircrafts, further expanding its role. And that same laser designator is used for AGM-114 Hellfire. Eventually, an armed version of the Predator came out, this time armed with the said missile under its wings.

And since the introduction of the Buzz Bombs, UAVs have the capabilities to kill.

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The armed UAV was involved in various conflicts, but it became infamous for targeted killings. A robot sent to assassinate an individual is the stuff of action movies, but that’s exactly what happened. The Predator, and other UAV versions hunted and killed Al Qaeda leaders. Drones have advantages like being silent, hence they could approach undetected before unloading their missiles. And one of its victims is Abu Khayr al-Masri, and Egyptian Al Qaeda leader.

And fast forward to the Russian Invasion of Ukraine, another UAV is adding to the woes of the already stalled Russian armors.


The Turkish Bayraktar TB2

The Bayraktar TB2.

The Bayraktar TB2.

When dealing with a massive Russian convoy, the Ukrainians resorted to various anti-tank weapons. The Javelins and NLAWs are part of the arsenal, and up in the air, a Turkish-made armed drone delivers its load of laser guided missiles.

The Bayraktar TB2, which means “flag bearer” in Turkish is a medium altitude, high endurance UAV. It could be remotely controlled or flown autonomously, with monitoring by the ground crew. The Turkish military is the main operator, but other countries also owned a fleet. On the outside, it uses a blended wing and body design and an inversed V tail. The internal combustion engine (105 horse-power) that powers the drone sits between the tail boom. The drone is controlled by three operators (pilot, payload operator and mission commander) in a NATO based shelter, equipped with cross redundant command and control system. The drone could fly at 80 mph, and armed with four laser guided missiles. Being a long flyer, it could loiter at 24 hours, at the height of 25000 feet. Overall, it’s lighter compared to the MQ-9 Reaper. And with its low purchasing (less than 10 million dollars) and maintenance cost, the said drone is the Kalashnikov rifle of the UAV world.

Lake many of its contemporaries, the drone saw actions in conflicts, like counterterrorism and Syrian Civil War. And recently, Ukraine used it in great effects against Russian armors.

The Damages

Destroyed Russian tanks.

Destroyed Russian tanks.

Ukraine owned 20 of these drones, and still ordering more. And before the Russian Invasion of Ukraine, drones were never used against a major military power. The deployment of the Bayraktar TB2 marked the first time UAVs are used to fight such a powerful opponent. As the war in Ukraine continues, Russia’s poor planning was greatly exploited through the drone’s deployment.

The problem is that Russia failed to secure air superiority over Ukraine. The air defense established by the Russians is equally sloppy. Though it was believed that Russia owned a large number of S-400, the drone somehow managed to elude their air defenses. Possibly, Russia never had enough defenses to protect its convoy. And with minimal threats in the air, the Bayraktar TB2 is free operate. Armed with the UAV, Ukraine managed to carry-out dozens of successful missions. The result is blown vehicles and casualties in the Russian side. The drone also played a role in the stall of the Russian armored convoy, after it destroyed a fuel train.

References

1. Osborn, Kris (04 March 2022). "Ukraine's Bayraktar TB2 Drones are Wreaking Havoc on Russian Vehicles". National Interest.

2. Filseth, Trevor (03 March 2022). "More Advanced Turkish Drones Arrive in Ukraine". National Interest.

3. "Bayraktar TB2". Military Factory. Retrieved 5 January 2020.

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