Turkish drones play role in Ukraine’s war

1. Turkey drone
The pride of Ankara, the Turkish combat drones which Ukraine has acquired went into action in the first hours of the Russian invasion. (Photo: AFP)
ANKARA  — The pride of Ankara, Turkish combat drones were quickly put into action by Ukraine following Russia’s invasion. اضافة اعلان

But while they have proved their worth in several recent conflicts — from Syria to Libya to Nagorno-Karabakh — the terrain this time is less favorable, experts say.

Kyiv has around 20 Bayraktar TB2 drones, built by the Turkish military.

Relatively cheap and effective, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been their number one salesman, securing deals with around 15 countries around the world.

The Ukrainian ambassador in Ankara has regularly tweeted images of explosions attributed to the drones, targeting Russian columns and artillery, with accompanying phrases like: “#Bayraktar — “Mashallah (God be praised)” and strings of joyous emojis.

“These TB2 strikes are, in comparison to ground combat, relatively small in number, but important for Ukrainian morale precisely because it shows Russia does not control the skies,” said Aaron Stein, of the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

But the positive assessment also rests on Russia’s surprising reticence to use its full airpower.

“The Russian air campaign has baffled experts, including myself, who made the incorrect assumption that they would be far more active over Ukraine,” said Stein.

Russian air power will overwhelm Ukraine’s drones “at some point in the near future,” he predicted.

‘21st century AK47’

Several conflicts in recent years have offered a shop window for Turkey’s drones.

They were a determining factor in Nagorno-Karabakh in November 2020, giving Azerbaijan’s forces the edge over Armenia in the disputed region.

In Libya a year earlier, they were crucial to repelling a protracted offensive by rebel commander, General Khalifa Haftar, against the government in Tripoli.

Turkey has also deployed drones against Kurdish militants and government forces in Syria — the latter backed by Russia.

“Hardy, reliable, competitive,” gushes a Western competitor, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Turkey has reinvented the Kalashnikov of the 21st century,” they added — a reference to the AK-47 rifle created by the Soviet Union that flooded war zones around the world due to its ease of use and cheap price tag.

‘Stunning upset’

The TB2 is 6.5m long and half the weight of its US counterpart, the Reaper, carrying four laser-guided munitions.

Its maker Baykar says it can fly for 27 hours, at up to 220km per hour, and is operational between 18,000 and 25,000 feet.

“The fact that a relatively light and inexpensive drone could not only evade but actively search out and destroy modern surface-to-air missile and electronic warfare systems, while suffering little losses in return, has rightfully garnered worldwide attention,” said Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans, of the specialist ORYX blog.  

“The result of the TB2’s entry into combat was a stunning upset of the status quo, forcing many countries to rethink their approach to defense.”

‘Just not enough’

However, Ukraine’s inventory is limited.

It lost at least one drone in the first days of the conflict, said Sinan Ulgen, of the Edam think tank in Istanbul.

And although deals had been signed to produce Turkish drones in Ukraine, work had yet to begin and it is unclear if further drones are available for purchase.

Kyiv used the TB2 for the first time last October to strike a Russian separatist artillery position in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.

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