On October 26th, 2021, a video showing a Ukrainian TB-2 Bayraktar medium altitude long endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial combat vehicle (UCAV) strike went viral. The video showed the Ukrainian TB-2 destroying a Donetsk Peoples Republic’s D-30 155mm artillery piece with a MAM (Mini Akll Mühimmat, meaning Smart Micro Munition) The video also showed the world the fruit of the nearly 7 years of research, development, and proliferation of the Turkish made drone to Ukraine, where it is now flying daily strikes against Russian Federation Ground Forces in their slow advance since their February 24th, 2022 invasion.
MADE IN TURKEY
Selçuk Bayraktar is considered the “Godfather of Turkey’s Killer Drones”. A graduate student of the University of Pennsylvania and Doctorate Student of MIT, he returned to Tukey in the late 1990s and went to work for his family’s business which historically made aircraft parts for the Turkish Defense ministry. At the time, Turkey had purchased six General Atomics GNAT 750s, which was an unarmed Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) UAV. However, he recognized an opening to create domestic drones since the United States had embargoed the sale of such systems to Turkey ever since their invasion of Cyprus in 1975 and the persecution of the PKK, which the United States supports. in 2005 he first petitioned the Turkish government and demoed a small UAS, emphasizing its ISR capabilities.
During the 2000s, the Turks turned outwards again for armed drones, this time to Israel, which tried for 5 years to integrate the Heron drone into the Turkish military, but when diplomatic relations broke down in 2010, Ankara was finally ready to embrace its fledgling domestic drone industry. By 2015, the first kinetic strike was carried out by the TB-2 at an altitude of 4km, hitting a target 8km away. This demonstration and the marriage of Selçuk Bayraktar to President Erdogan’s daughter solidified Bayraktar as Turkey’s monopolizing drone manufacturer.
The TB-2 is a primarily carbon fiber blended wing design with an inverse V-Tail structure. It has a 6.5m body length, 12m wingspan, a max takeoff weight of 650kg, and a maximum payload of 150kg. It is powered by a 100hp internal combustion engine that relies on a total fuel bladder of 300 liters of gasoline. It can travel a maximum structural speed of 120 kts, but enjoys a comfortable cruise speed of 70 kts at a range of 150km and a service ceiling of 8,200m and can remain airborne for 27 hours at optimal cruising speed and altitude. These characteristics make the TB-2 a Group 4 UAS, as defined by the U.S. Department of Defense:
The entire TB-2 system includes six aerial vehicle platforms, two ground control stations, three ground data terminals (GDT), two remote video terminals (RVT) and ground support equipment. It also has a triple-redundant flight control system with autonomous taxi, takeoff, cruise, landing and parking capability without any external sensor aid. The Ground Control station is able to maintain Command and Control signal fidelity up to 150km from the aircraft, at which point it can extend the range with control from another station or aground data terminal. The control station is manned by a crew of three that includes the pilot, payload operator and mission commander to command.
However, what makes the TB-2 a modern folk hero for the Ukrainian Armed Forces is its armament. The TB-2 gave Ukraine its first UCAV strike capability with MAM (Mini Akll Mühimmat, meaning Smart Micro Munition) which is a family of GPS/INS and laser-guided smart munitions produced by Turkish defense industry manufacturer Roketsan. The UK designed the Hornet micro-munitions bomb rack by in order to allow these munitions to be carried by the TB-2. The bomb rack was provided to Turkey in 2015, and a variant of it was integrated into the aircraft variant sold to Ukraine. MAMs have an average range of 8km and have an armor piercing variant which has been used already in the current Russian-Ukraine war.
Use in Ukraine
As part of its military modernization program, Ukraine purchased 12 Bayraktar TB2s in 2019. After successful tests, the Ukrainian Navy made a separate order for 6 Bayraktar TB2s, set to be delivered in 2021. Meanwhile, Turkish and Ukrainian officials announced the establishment of a joint venture to produce 48 additional Bayraktar TB2s in Ukraine. The establishment of this factory enraged Russian officials as an example of “NATO militarization of Ukraine.”
In October 2021, the TB2 was used for the first time in combat by Ukraine, targeting a Russian separatist artillery position, destroying a D-30 howitzer, and halting the bombardment of Ukrainian troops near Hranitne:
“From 14:25 to 15:15 [2:25 PM to 3:15 PM local time on Oct. 26], a battery of howitzers D-30 of the Russian terrorist forces fired on the positions of the Joint Forces in the area of the settlement of Granitne. Two servicemen of the Armed Forces of Ukraine were wounded during the shelling, one of them was killed,” according to the General Staff’s statement. “With the start of the shelling, a ceasefire was immediately demanded through the OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] SMM – Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, and a note was sent through diplomatic channels. However, the occupiers did not react.”
The next day, a TB-2 was dispatched with MAM: MAM-C and MAM-L precision-guided munitions and struck one of the D-30s , drawing the ire of the Russian Federation who used that incident as a pretext for their military buildup in the fall of 2021 and subsequent invasion in February of 2022. The Russians claimed that this strike violated the Minsk II agreements along the Line Of Contact (LOC) in the Donbass since the 2014 War since the TB-2 was technically made by a NATO country. However, the Ukrainians claimed that it did not violate the agreements since the drone did not actually fly near the LOC, but was able to strike Separatists positions who were using 155mm artillery which violated the Minsk agreements.
In January prior to the invasion, the spokesperson for the Ukrainian Air Force Command Lt. Col. Yuri Ignat confirmed that “Ukraine has approximately 20 Bayraktar drones, but we will not stop there”. On February 24th, 2022, the Russian Federation pounded Ukrainian IADS with over 100 Kalibr Cruise missiles strikes as well as Tac-air sorties which supposedly targeted several airfields where the TB-2 was stationed. However, several videos have been published by the Ukrainian government showing the TB-2 striking Russian columns as their logistics trains were backlogged on Ukrainian roads.
The chief of Ukraine’s air force Lt. Gen. Mykola Oleshchuk called the UAV system “life-giving”. On 2 March, Ukrainian defense minister Oleksii Reznikov announced the arrival of additional TB2 drones. As the war continues, the TB-2 will continue to provide ISR, and strike capability to the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
As of writing this, the Turkish government has confirmed that Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, Morocco, Pakistan, Poland, Qatar, Turkmenistan and Ukraine have received these systems and are currently using them or integrating them into their militates. The TB-2 has been actively striking Tigray targets in the ongoing Ethiopian Civil War. On 7 January 2022, a drone strike killed nearly 60 civilians and injured dozens more in a camp of internally displaced people in Dedebit in Tigray; the missile used was a MAM-L exclusively used with the Turkish-made TB2 drone
Turkey has also confirmed that they planning on selling the TB-2 to Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Oman, Rwanda, Somalia, and Serbia,
As this system continues to proliferate, it would behoove the reader to become familiar with visual recognition and knowledge of its capabilities beyond the scope of this article.