Warplanes: Turkey Embarrasses Russia

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November 17, 2021: In October 2021 Ukraine used one of its armed Turkish TB2 UAVs to destroy a Russian self-propelled howitzer that had broken the ceasefire by shelling a Ukrainian position, killing one soldier and wounding two others. This was the first combat use of the TB2 in eastern Ukraine (DonBas) where Russian soldiers and Russian-backed locals sought to take over and annex to Russia two Ukrainian provinces. Swift and unexpected Ukrainian resistance quickly halted the Russian advance and since 2015 there have been a series of ceasefires that are regularly broken, and then revived by the Russians.

Ukraine received its first TB2s in 2019 and used them mainly for surveillance, obtaining a growing number of videos showing Russian forces violating the ceasefire. Ukraine was reluctant to use the TB2 laser guided missiles, as the Russians might interpret that as an escalation and try harder to shoot down the TB2s. Ukrainians soon discovered that the TB2s were indeed vulnerable to ground fire and anti-aircraft missiles, but not so vulnerable that the risks outweigh the benefits. That was the Turkish experience, which has used the armed TB2s aggressively against irregulars in Syria, Iraq, Eastern Turkey, Armenia and Libya. That included destroying modern anti-aircraft systems designed to eliminate large UAVs like the TB2. The first use in DonBas was justified by the need to deal with a Russian violation of the ceasefire. The Russians declared the TB2 use an escalation (true) and unprovoked (false). To the Ukrainians that indicated the TB2 missile had the desired effect.

At the end of 2018 Ukraine spent $69 million on two Bayraker TB2 UAV systems. Each system contains six UAVs, three truck-mounted ground control systems, two remote video terminals, which troops can use and maintenance gear. The first system was delivered in 2019 and the other in 2020. Ukraine is the second export customer for Bayraker, as Qatar had earlier ordered one system. The primary customer is the Turkish military, which already has six systems and plans to buy 151 UAVs, mostly as systems but also spares for expected operational losses to accidents or enemy fire. Even before the recent use of an armed TB2 in Donbas, Ukraine had ordered 24 more TB2s for use by the army and navy.

The small Turkish firm that developed Bayraktar borrowed heavily from commercial technology that has already proved itself. As a result, Bayraktar was the first Turkish locally designed and built UAV of its class to enter service (with the Turkish Air Force) in 2014.

Bayraktar is a 650 kg (1,433 pounds) aircraft with a 55 kg (110 pound) payload and an endurance of 24 hours. In 2016 Bayraktar TB2 was equipped to carry two 22.5 kg (50 pound) Turkish made Mam-L laser-guided missiles. With a range of 8 kilometers, the Mam-l weighs half as much as the American Hellfire and is light enough for Bayraktar TB2 to carry two of them. These are used regularly against PKK separatists in Turkey and Islamic terrorists and rebel groups in Syria.

Since the late 1990s, Turkish firms have developed and deployed several workable UAV designs. But Bayraktar was the most reliable, affordable and had the most features compared to their Turkish competitors and competitive with similar Chinese UAVs.

Turkish UAV development has been going on since the late 1990s when Israel was still an ally and supplier of weapons and tech to the Turks. But by 2003 an anti-Israel Islamic government was running Turkey and local UAV development was crippled but not destroyed as military and technical relationships with Israel were severed.

The smaller Turkish firm that developed Bayraktar UAVs paid closer attention to the Turkish experience with Israeli UAV tech and managed to develop and manufacture competitive UAVs sooner than the larger Turkish firms that paid more attention to Turkish politics than to customer needs. The Bayraktar TB2 was very similar to the Israeli Heron UAV, which was the primary UAV for the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces). Bayraktar also paid a lot of attention to software development, learning much from the experience of the Israelis and Americans. The latest Bayraktar TB2 flight software not only takes off and lands automatically but can also move from its parking spot on an airfield, taxi to the runway and takeoff without human intervention other than commands from the airbase flight controllers. In flight, the control software has several redundancies, as in backup procedures for various emergencies, that make Bayraktar TB2 a safer and easier to operate UAV. Ukraine probably could have obtained a similar UAV from China for less money but Bayraktar already had a reputation for reliability and better software than most. Another bonus for buying UAVs from Turkey is that Russia is trying, with mixed success, to turn Turkey into an ally. The Turks are not cooperating. Ukraine also does business with China, which is also an ally with Russia but believes business is business.

 


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