Ukraine war: Turkish armed drones allegedly still in use

The government in Kiev publishes pictures of drone attacks on Russian invaders, who in turn report the shooting down of several „TB2“. It is doubtful that the weapon is decisive, as it was in the war over Nagorno-Karabakh. However, its current use is likely to further boost exports.

Despite Russian attacks on hundreds of military bases in Ukraine, the Ukrainian air force apparently still has functioning combat drones. The Defence Ministry yesterday confirmed two attacks by the Turkish-made „Bayraktar TB2“. On Facebook, the head of the air force stressed the important role of drones in national defence. No specific date was given for the missions.

One of the drone attacks is said to have taken place near the town of Malyn, 100 kilometres northwest of the capital Kiev. There, according to Ukrainian forces, two Russian BUK surface-to-air missile systems were destroyed, and according to other reports, another air defence system, four howitzers and 14 military vehicles were hit. This cannot be independently verified, but the report is highly symbolic as the BUK guided missile system is also used for drone defence.

„Divine justice“ for Russian attack in Syria

A convoy of dozens of vehicles was reportedly hit in Chornobayvka in southern Ukraine, with a video showing an impact with a fireball and a cloud of smoke. Other pictures posted by the Ukrainian embassy in Ankara show charred wrecks of military vehicles. The attack, according to the embassy, was „divine justice“ for a Russian attack in Syria two years earlier to the day. There, the Russian military had killed 34 Turkish soldiers.

The first six „TB2“ were delivered to Ukraine in 2019, it was the first sale of the Turkish combat drones by the manufacturing company Baykar Industries to a European government. They can stay in the air for 24 hours and climb eight kilometres with a take-off weight of 650 kilograms. In armed combat, the drones carry up to four missiles on suspension points under their wings. As far as is known, the Ukrainian „TB2s“ are not controlled by satellite, which reduces their range in armed combat to around 100 kilometres.

In April 2021, the first „TB2s“ should have been ready for deployment. In a second tranche, Ukraine ordered a further 24 aircraft from Baykar, but it is unclear whether these arrived as agreed from 2021 onwards. Last autumn, the stock was said to be 12 drones, and the navy is also reported to operate them. However, at least seven „TB2s“ have been shot down in recent days, the Russian state news agency TASS writes.

First mission in the Donbass

The first – and until the current Russian war the only – known use of a „TB2“ by the Ukrainian air force took place on 26 October 2021, when a howitzer belonging to the Russian-backed separatists in the Donbass was destroyed. Russia had therefore complained to the OSCE about a violation of the Minsk Agreement. The attack at that time is considered one of the reasons cited by the government in Moscow as evidence of Ukrainian aggression. The German and French governments are also said to have been concerned about it.

The incident furthermore had repercussions for Russia’s relationship with Turkey, whose foreign minister, after the sale of the „TB2“, denied any responsibility for its deployment. However, the guided missiles also came from Turkey. The October launch was allegedly carried out by a MAM-C missile; the heavier MAM-L or MAM-T missiles may have been used in the most recent attacks.

More NATO countries reportedly want to order „TB2“

In its attack in Chornobayvka, the armed drone was reportedly equipped with sensor technology from the Canadian company WESCAM. In Azerbaijan’s war against Armenia, which was supported by Turkey, the „TB2s“ were decisive for victory, according to many observers. Because they flew with WESCAM products, the government in Ottawa had imposed an export ban. The Turkish manufacturer then resorted to German sensor technology from the Hensoldt company. In the meantime, Baykar claims to have replaced the foreign technology with Turkish products.

Other deployments of the „TB2“ are currently being carried out by Turkey in several parts of Kurdistan, by Morocco in the occupied Western Sahara and by the military in Ethiopia. There, too, they could have been a gamechanger in the fight against the rebels. Because of the high demand, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry had agreed with Turkey to set up a factory for the production of unmanned aerial vehicles with the Turkish manufacturer Baykar, where 48 more „TB2“ were to be built. There were also plans for the joint production of engines for a new, even larger Turkish combat drone in Ukraine.

Last year, Poland was the first NATO country to order 24 „TB2s“ from Turkey, and the governments of Latvia and Lithuania are also reportedly interested in the weapon. In December, Kyrgyzstan became the first of the former Soviet republics to receive a delivery of the Turkish armed drones.

Image: Ministry of Defence Ukraine.

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.