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Endless War Made The Bayraktar TB2 World Famous

June 21, 2022
Via Baykar.

It must be the decade’s biggest publicity coup in global aerospace, never mind if it’s only the first half of a difficult 2022, and comes from a manufacturer that was little known just 10 years ago. But with the international outpouring of support for Ukraine in its existential war against a full-scale Russian invasion Baykar’s best-selling combat drone is once again front and center. This time a crowdfunding drive in Lithuania proved so successful–the money was being raised to purchase a Bayraktar TB2–that Baykar not only acknowledged the effort but arranged a donation: it will deliver a Bayraktar TB2 to Lithuania free of charge while the actual funds raised are donated to humanitarian organizations in Ukraine.

On June 2 the Lithuanian defense minister met Selcuk Bayraktar in the company’s active production facility and, as promised, a single TB2 was presented with the end user’s flag printed on its tail. (Pictured above.) Baykar clarified the combat drone arrives in Lithuania by July free of charge. It’s expected Vilnius will transfer it to Ukraine whose armored forces preserved its small fleet of TB2’s through 118 days of war. Kyiv ordered an initial batch of 12 TB2’s in 2019 and negotiated a joint venture with Baykar for localized assembly. A further 24 were set be delivered from 2021 until 2022. When Russia launched its invasion on February 24 the TB2 fleet of Ukraine only had an estimated 24 units and then Turkey added fresh units together with their ordnance in March through semi-clandestine aerial delivery.

Since it entered service in 2014 the TB2 enjoyed glowing press from Turkish media. But its journey to stardom really kicked off in late 2019 when Ankara supported the embattled Tripoli faction during Libya’s civil war. The following year pole vaulted the TB2 to worldwide fame. In February 2020 dozens were flown by the Turkish military against unprepared Syrian forces in Idlib and then from September until November when Armenia and Azerbaijan slugged it out over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. During that war a small fleet of TB2’s broke Armenian fortifications and a formidable air defense network. Edited video clips released by Azerbaijan’s defense ministry and shared on social media created an almost mythological reputation for the TB2–a prop-driven medium altitude combat drone that rubbished advanced Russian air defense systems like the Pantsir-S1 and Tor-M1.

A Russian soldier stands next to wreckage of the TB2 in Ukraine. The photo is dated in late March or early April.

The same has unraveled in Ukraine albeit on a smaller scale considering the size of the theater. Edited footage of TB2 kills shared by Ukraine’s defense ministry aren’t as voluminous as Azerbaijan but have the same purpose: creating a public record that inflates the lethal reputation of the TB2. It’s now inarguable how Soviet and Russian-made SAMs like the Strela-10, the Osa, Tor, and the Buk are vulnerable to the TB2 when it loiters at distances beyond their radar coverage. The Russian army’s shambolic logistics columns and haphazard plans are irresistible targets as well. Even the navy suffered unnecessary losses. The sinking of the cruiser Moskva on April 13 was a sophisticated operation that involved at least a single TB2 observing the warship until it could be targeted with subsonic missiles, with at least two confirmed hits. The latest evidence of the TB2’s use in the war arrived on June 18 when it tracked and disabled a Russian tugboat in the Black Sea.

Although Ukrainian TB2’s have destroyed scores of targets their overall impact on the war is limited. Russia’s defense ministry and propaganda apparatus are proactive in sharing evidence of TB2 kills although only five TB2 wrecks in Ukraine are verifiable. Russia’s defense ministry insists a lot more have been shot down. The Russian military’s grinding progress at the edges of Luhansk Oblast since May seem unhindered by TB2’s or other combat drones supplied to Ukraine by the US. The obvious reason is, even with gaps in its radar coverage, the Russian air defense network over Crimea and southern Ukraine is extremely robust and the TB2 is at high risk when flown in these occupied regions.

Regardless of its limitations in Ukraine the TB2’s success is established. Operators in Central and South Asia alone are so enthusiastic that Baykar may soon corner the entire market regardless of China’s availability. So far, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan have acquired TB2’s in small quantities. Further sales are rumored for Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. (Kazakhstan, on the other hand, is launching a production line for the TAI Anka-S, whose range and payload suits the vast national geography better.)

In the Middle East, TB2’s have enhanced the air power of Azerbaijan, Qatar, and the Tripoli government of Libya. For some reason the UAE’s military-industrial conglomerate introduced a similar combat drone to the TB2 it branded as the Reach-S. Meanwhile, Baykar’s exports to Africa are surging with Ethiopia, Mali, Morocco, Niger, and Somalia either confirmed or rumored to have placed orders. When assessed by volume the export of unmanned aircraft by China and Israel clearly surpass Turkey’s. But when viewed as an exercise in brand recognition and mainstream popularity, the TB2 beats the competition. What a remarkable achievement.

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