One of the most effective weapon systems used in Ukraine is the Bayraktar TB2 tactical unmanned aerial system. Since the start of the conflict, the Ukrainian Air Force has used the drone to great tactical and psychological effect.
Bayraktar TB2: Features and Weapons
The tactical unmanned aerial system specialized in precision strike and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) operations.
The Bayraktar TB2 is powered by a Rotax 912 internal combustion engine, which powers a two-bladed variable pitch propeller, located at the rear of the unmanned aerial system, that has the capacity to produce thrust of more than 100 horsepower. The Bayraktar TB2 has a maximum operational altitude of about 27,000 feet, a maximum range of around 93 miles (or 150 kilometers), and operational endurance of more than 27 hours.
As a tactical drone, the Bayraktar TB2 isn’t fast or agile. The unmanned aerial system can reach speeds of between 80 and 140 miles per hour (or 70 to 120 knots per hour). Should it find itself on the receiving end of anti-aircraft fire—for example, the FIM-92 Stinger anti-aircraft weapon system that the U.S. and other NATO countries have sent Ukraine—the Bayraktar TB2 has small chances of survival.
When it comes to munitions and payload, the Bayraktar TB2 can pack a “healthy” 330 pounds (150 kg) of firepower. The drone can carry four MAM-C or MAM-L air-to-ground missiles. The MAM-C missile weighs 14 pounds and comes with a multi-purpose warhead that has high-explosive (HE) and armor-piercing capabilities that can take out an enemy squad or a tank depending on the need. The MAM-L missile packs a much heavier punch. With a warhead weighing 48-pounds, the MAM-L can pack a multi-purpose warhead that can meet high-explosive or armor-piercing needs but also can carry a thermobaric warhead, which sucks oxygen from the surrounding environment to produce a high-temperature explosion; thermobaric weapons are deadly and ideal for taking out bunkers.
Costing approximately $5million each, the Bayraktar TB2 is manufactured by Baykar Makina, a Turkish aerospace defense company. The Bayraktar TB2 is a proven tactical drone with more than 200,000 operational flight hours and 400,000 overall flight hours under its wings.
The Turkish military is the primary user of the Bayraktar TB2. However, the drone has had relative international success, and the war in Ukraine will surely drive sales of the drone. Additional users include Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, Morrocco, Niger, Pakistan, Qatar, Turkmenistan, and Ukraine. Several other countries have expressed an interest or desire to add the tactical unmanned aerial system to their arsenal.
In addition to the war in Ukraine, the Bayraktar TB2 has seen action in Armenia, Libya, Syria, and parts of Africa. The Bayraktar TB2 has reportedly destroyed close to 900 targets in all of the conflicts it has participated in.
Bayraktar TB2: Effectiveness in Ukraine
The Ukrainian Air Force has been using the Bayraktar TB2 quite effectively against the Russian forces.
According to the open-source intelligence website Oryx, Ukrainian Bayraktar TB2s have destroyed quite a few Russian military vehicles and platforms. The list includes 152mm 2A65 Msta-B towed howitzers, 220mm BM-27 ‘Uragan’ Multi Launch Rocket Systems, Pantsir-S1 and 9A331 TLA anti-aircraft systems, Ka-52 ‘Alligator’ attack helicopters, Mi-8 transport helicopters, Project 03160 Raptor class patrol boats, fuel trains, and BMD-2 infantry fighting vehicles.
The above are just some of the platforms that the Bayraktar TB2 has reportedly destroyed and that Oryx could independently and visually verify.
“The Bayraktar TB2’s role was not merely that of a hunter killer, but ultimately even that of a complete ruler over the battlefield. Capable of stalking the location of any ground target and tracking their every move all the while flying in one of the most densely covered areas of air defence, the TB2 could direct other assests [sic] to hit ground targets all the while flying circles above them,” the Oryx analysts wrote.
But the Bayraktar TB2 has been doing more than just taking out Russian tanks and artillery pieces. The Ukrainian Air Force reportedly used it to distract the Russian ballistic missile cruiser Moskva, the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, and allow for two Neptune anti-ship missiles to hit and sink the warship.
The Ukrainians have even composed a song about the drone to celebrate its perceived effectiveness on the ground.
Effective But Not Omnipotent
However, the Bayraktar TB2’s reported effectiveness in Ukraine—or in the Armenian-Azerbaijani war of 2020—shouldn’t necessarily be taken as proof of general superiority. The Russian military has proved that it lacks the fundamental warfighting skills that one would expect from a military of its size and history.
To be sure, the Bayraktar TB2 is a capable tactical unmanned aerial system that, in the right hands, can prove highly effective. But it should not be considered omnipotent when it hasn’t gone up highly competent and technologically advanced militaries.
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.