In one video which went viral on Twitter on Sunday night, a massive explosion rips through what appears to be a Russian convoy, scoring a direct hit on a surface-to-air missile system.
black and white images, posted on the account of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, is one of many that have emerged on social media in recent days showing the devastating impact of Ukrainian drone strikes on Russian hardware. As the drone payload explodes in the video – which appears to be a cellphone recording of a screen at a Ukrainian drone facility – people at the facility can be heard gasping in admiration before bursting into cheers and applause.
The video racked up over 3 million views on Twitter in two days. “Be afraid, enemies! There will be no peace for you on our land! wrote the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the caption of the video.
The star of this video and others circulating on Twitter is the Bayraktar TB2 – a type of Turkish drone that the Ukrainian military has increasingly deployed against Russian forces in recent days. On Tuesday, the Ukrainian army noted that Bayraktar drones had destroyed a tank and two surface-to-air missile systems overnight. In other videos shared on Twitter, Bayraktar dronesused by the military since at least 2021, are shown blowing up what appears to be a Russian fuel convoy and a group of supply trucks.
The drones are small and light (about seven times lighter than the US Army’s Reaper drone) with a wingspan of 12 meters that allows them to stay in the sky for up to 30 hours at a stretch. Every drone can each carry four laser-guided missiles, according to promotional materials from Baykar Technologies, the company that produces them.
The impact of Bayraktar drones in Ukraine
Ukraine’s drone campaign contributed to its early successes by slowing the Russian advanceand is revealing unexpected weaknesses on the part of the Russian militarysay US and European military analysts. Perhaps more importantly, analysts add, videos are also becoming an increasingly important part of Ukraine’s information warfare – giving Russian invaders reason to fear their enemy and providing a vital boost to the Ukrainian morale amid fears of an upcoming military attack. Even so, drones are unlikely to change the long-term course of warfare, analysts point out.
“The images released by the Ukrainian military show serious flaws in Russian air defense coverage, which is a surprise to many observers,” said Arda Mevlütoğlu, Turkish military and aerospace analyst. “The images are also very useful for public relations and psychological warfare.”
Reliable and accurate military drones were once the exclusive purview of the US military. But the technology has become more mainstream in recent years and is now an integral part of many 21st century battlefields. And Turkey is now the main supplier. Over the past two years, Turkish Bayraktar drones have appeared not only in Ukraine, but also in Ethiopia, Azerbaijan, Libya and Syria. Last year in Ethiopia, a rebel force swooped down on the capital Addis Ababa before the government pushed them back with drones. In the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia in 2020, Turkish drones proved decisive in the victory of Azeri against Armenia – a Russian ally.
“In recent years, the Bayraktars have had some really famous successes,” says Tony Osborne, the London bureau chief of Aviation Week, a publication focused on the aerospace industry. “I would say it is now the most famous drone of all.”
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Video shared by the Ukrainian Armed Forces on Sunday reveals one of the main selling points of drones: that they are capable of inflicting disproportionate damage to enemy equipment, much cheaper than other drones, and low risk. Osborne estimates that the Bayraktar drones were sold to Ukraine at a single-digit cost of millions of dollars each – but that the Russian surface-to-air missile system destroyed in the video on Sunday could be worth up to $50 million.
“The main thing about these is that they’re cheap, and when they’re cheap, you’re not too scared of losing them,” he says. “You can throw them into a fight and if they score a dramatic hit, like we saw yesterday, you suddenly win the war of attrition.”
Osborne estimates that Ukraine likely has around 20 Baykar drones in its operational arsenal. In December, Bloomberg reported that Ukraine had placed orders for two dozen more, citing officials. Baykar did not respond to requests for comment.
Turkey’s growing role as a drone power
For NATO member Turkey, drone sales to Ukraine align with its military interests – namely the preservation of the balance of power in the Black Sea region, according to Galip Dalay, an expert in Turkish and Middle Eastern politics at Chatham House, a London international. business think tank.
While Bayraktar drones are made by a private company, Baykar Technologies, the drones are widely seen as an arm of Turkish foreign policy. The company’s technical director, Selçuk Bayraktar, is the son-in-law of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “Countries like the United States, China, Israel have refused to sell armed drones to Ukraine,” Haluk Bayraktar, CEO of the company and brother of Selçuk, said during a webinar in May 2021. “ Turkey was the only country to agree to sell this technology to Ukraine. ”
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Turkish foreign policy has also animated the presence of Bayraktar drones in Syria, Libya and Azerbaijan – all battlegrounds where Russian and Turkish proxies clash. “Drones give Turkey a geopolitical advantage,” Dalay says. “It’s one thing to engage in conventional combat in places like Libya or Syria, but it’s another to employ drones. Drones make Turkey’s job easier.
In other cases, such as Ethiopia, Turkish drone sales are likely driven more by economic than political factors. Turkey has not attached any political conditions to its drone exports, unlike the United States, according to Mevlütoğlu.
Videos of Bayraktar drones visiting death on Russian convoys have almost certainly been shared by the Ukrainian military to boost morale. But with a large column of Russian vehicles heading towards Kiev, any Ukrainian morale resulting from footage of drone strikes is likely to be short-lived. Baykar, on the other hand, looks set to reap the rewards long into the future. “Now that Turkey has a growing defense industry, you want to present your items as proven,” Dalay says. “These types of conflict zones have become major public relations for the Turkish drone industry.