The TB2 Is Becoming a Legend: Last month, the CEO of Turkey’s Baykar defense firm told a Ukrainian foundation that demand for its top-of-the-line TB2 drone has soared so high that there is now a three-year waitlist to purchase the weapon.
In an interview with Ukraine’s Come Back Alive foundation, Haluk Bayraktar said that while the defense firm can produce a maximum of just 20 TB2 drones a month, it plans to build a new facility in Ukraine to increase that number. The TB2 has recently gained notoriety for its role in countering Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Countless reports and videos have circulated depicting the drone’s effectiveness as a tool for Ukrainian resistance. Without the TB2, the Ukraine might lose the defensive edge it holds over Russia.
What makes the TB2 drone special?
The Baykar company is one of the world’s leading weapons manufacturers. Ozdemir Bayraktar founded the company in the 1980s. By the early 2000s, the firm began prioritizing the design and output of unmanned aircraft to supplement Turkish defense efforts. The TB2’s development began in 2007, and the Turkish military selected the drone in 2014. During this time, the TB2 began to gain prominence in counterinsurgency operations against People’s Defense Units and Kurdish Workers’ Party militants in northern Iraq and Syria. A New Yorker piece detailing the history of the TB2 said that, “Turkey’s remote-controlled counterinsurgency was thought to be the first time a country had conducted a drone campaign against citizens on its own soil, but Bayraktar, citing the threat of terrorism, remains an enthusiastic supporter of the campaign.”
Roughly the size of a small plane, the TB2 features a series of high-resolution cameras. Aerial videos showing how the drone targets and strikes Russian assets have circulated widely on various social media platforms, and these videos have boosted Ukraine’s propaganda efforts. The drone is also equipped with a Rotax 912 internal combustion engine that allows the weapon to reach speeds as high as roughly 138 miles per hour. The drone can reach an altitude of 27,000 feet and has a maximum range of 93 miles with an operational endurance of 27 hours. Each TB2 sports three ground data terminals, ground support equipment, and two remote video terminals. Perhaps most significant, all of the drone’s parts – including its digital flight control system – are manufactured in Turkey.
The TB2 drone’s numerous capabilities make it a highly exportable weapon. Today, the drone can be found in 13 countries. While the TB2 has recently made headlines for its role in Ukraine, the drone also successfully aided the Azerbaijani military in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The TB2’s history in Ukraine
The TB2’s advanced attributes have made it very effective against Russian equipment in Ukraine. Indeed, Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced Turkey’s sale of TB2s to Ukraine prior to the invasion. Since Moscow and Ankara share close relations in a variety of sectors, the Turkish company’s decision to provide TB2s to Ukraine infuriated Putin. A few months prior to the outbreak of war, Turkey’s foreign minister urged Kyiv to stop mentioning his country when discussing its drone imports. According to Forbes, Mevlut Cavusoglu stressed that, “If a country has purchased a weapon from us or another country, then that weapon cannot be labeled as Turkish.” Turkish officials have persistently defended the pre-war sales of TB2 drones to Ukraine, noting that Baykar is a private company and not government-owned.
Last week, the commander in chief of Ukraine’s armed forces claimed that two TB2 drones destroyed or severely damaged $28.35 million-worth of Russian military equipment. The commander shared on Facebook that 8 T-72 tanks and an Acacia self-propelled gun were among the equipment destroyed, along with infantry fighting vehicles and howitzers. He added that the drones damaged five more T-72s and one other infantry fighting vehicle.
Although it is very difficult to verify these assertions, the TB2 Bayraktar certainly has the capabilities to inflict the damage described. Regardless, the Turkish-made drone remains the most capable UAV in the conflict.
Maya Carlin is a Middle East Defense Editor with 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.