Almost three months into the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Ukrainian military continues to deliver lethal lessons to Russian forces. The Bayraktar TB2, an unmanned aerial system, has played an important role.
Made in Turkey, the Bayraktar TB2 is a medium altitude and long-range tactical unmanned aerial system.
In addition to strike missions, the Bayraktar TB2 can conduct intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) operations.
Powered by a Rotax 912 internal combustion engine that can produce more than 100 horsepower worth of thrust and moves a two-bladed variable pitch propeller at the back of the aircraft, the Bayraktar TB2 can reach speeds of 80 to 138 miles per hour (or 70 to 120 knots per hour). The unmanned aerial system had a maximum operational altitude of approximately 27,000 feet, a maximum range of 93 miles (or 150 kilometers), and operational endurance of 27 hours.
The Bayraktar TB2 can pack up to 330 pounds (150 kg) of munitions. It can carry four MAM-C or MAM-L air-to-ground missiles. The former weighs 14 pounds and has a multi-purpose warhead with high explosive and armor-piercing capabilities. At the same time, the latter has a 48-pound warhead and can also carry a multi-purpose warhead and a thermobaric one.
Manufactured by the Baykar Makina, the drone’s primary customer is the Turkish military. However, Ankara has been exporting the unmanned aerial system, and the drone has seen action with Kazakh military during the Armenia-Kazakhstan war in 2020, in Libya, Syria, and now in Ukraine.
The Bayraktar TB2 is an established unmanned aerial system with more than 200,000 operational flight hours under its wings.
Each Bayraktar TB2 has a price tag of approximately $5 million.
The Bayraktar Over Ukraine
More than two months into the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the Ukrainian airspace is still contested. The Russian Aerospace Forces have failed to achieve air dominance largely because of a combination of the robust Ukrainian air defenses—bolstered by timely and proactive intelligence sharing from the U.S. and other Western countries—and Russian military shortcomings.
As a result, the Ukrainian Air Force continues to fly sorties daily despite its opponent’s vast numerical and technological superiority.
The Bayraktar TB2 has been racking up kills. The unmanned aerial system reportedly played a part in the sinking of the Russian ballistic missile cruiser Moskva, the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, distracting it while two Ukrainian Neptun anti-ship missiles struck the warship.
Indeed, the Bayraktar TB2 has been highly effective against naval targets. Recently, the Ukrainian Air Force used a Bayraktar TB2 to successfully engage and destroy two Russian Raptor fast-attack boats in the Black Sea. And the drone is proving the bane of Russian forces occupying the famous Snake Island on the Black Sea. Footage released by the Ukrainian Armed Forces shows the Bayraktar TB2 destroying a command center and ammunition depot on the island.
Thus far in the war, the unmanned aerial system has been able to destroy Russian Pantsyr-S1, Tor SAM-15, 9K35 Strela-10, ZU-23-2, and BUK SA-11 short-and medium-air defense systems.
TB2 – It Is Not Invincible
But the notion of the unbeatable, all-powerful Bayraktar TB2 is misleading. The unmanned aerial system has its limitations, and the Russian military has managed to shoot down several drones.
In a recent interview, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky highlighted that although the Bayraktar TB2 has played an important role, it is not invincible.
“With all due respect, those or other drones can help, but do not affect the result. Because there is a history of missiles, artillery, air defense” the Ukrainian president had said.
It is worth noting that the Russian military also doesn’t possess advanced counter-drone capabilities, or at least not as advanced as some other countries. So, the Bayraktar TB2 performs better than it would normally do against an opponent with competent anti-aircraft and counter-drone capabilities.
Turkey and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan have adroitly used the Bayraktar TB2 in the conflict in Ukraine for diplomatic purposes.
Ankara has provided Ukraine with the Bayraktar TB2s before and after the Russian invasion. But the high-profile successes of the Turkish-made unmanned aerial system—the Ukrainians have even made a song about it—have obscured Turkey’s strategic ambiguity concerning the war.
Although a NATO member and supposed U.S. ally, Turkey is the only NATO state to have allowed Russian flights to pass through its airspace. Ankara closed its airspace to Russian military flights with troops a few days ago, but it only did so almost after two months of the war, when the Russian military would have already moved any troops required. Moreover, Turkey closed the Bosporus Straits in Instanbul to all military vessels only after the Russian Navy sent all necessary warships.
It seems that Turkey is looking to compensate for its pro-Russian actions by selling and praising the Bayraktar TB2 drone to Ukraine.
1945’s New Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.