ANKARA, Turkey (AP) – Despite three weeks of Russian bombing, Ukraine has maintained a strict defense of its cities by using Turkish-made drones to carry out pop-up attacks on invaders with lethal effectiveness that surprised military experts. westerners.
Bayraktar TB2 unmanned aerial vehicles, carrying laser-guided light bombs, typically excel in low-tech conflicts, and Turkey has sold them to more than a dozen countries, including Azerbaijan, Libya, Morocco and Ethiopia.
Drones carried out unexpectedly successful strikes in the early stages of Ukraine’s conflict with Moscow, before the Russians could deploy their air defenses on the battlefield, said Jack Watling of the London-based Royal United Services Institute.
“The (TB2) are not expected to have a significant impact because they are medium-altitude slow-flying aircraft with a large electromagnetic signature and a large radar section. And the Russians have very capable air defense systems, so they should be shot down. The terrain is very open and offers good radar coverage, ”Watling added.
He said the Ukrainian forces “were essentially flown low and then came and broke in with them. Such amazing opportunity targets.
Over time, as the Russians organize and push out their air defenses, Watling said that “the freedom to employ those drones is decreasing. And so what we are seeing now is that Ukrainians have to be careful when they commit them. “.
In a briefing in Parliament on March 9, British Defense Minister Ben Wallace praised the drones, along with other weapons donated to Ukraine by the West.
“One of the ways they are providing close air support or real deep fire is through Turkish TB2 UAVs, which are delivering ammunition to their artillery and indeed to their supply lines, which are incredibly important in slowing or blocking the advance. Russian, ”Wallace said.
Drones have also been successful on social media. Their aerial video of the destruction of Russian armored vehicles has become a key tool for information warfare in Ukraine.
Vasyl Bodnar, Ukraine’s ambassador to Turkey, shared videos of drone strikes on Twitter, including one that appeared to show a convoy of destroyed Russian military vehicles.
“Masallah” or “Praise” wrote in a caption on one of the videos.
A video using a song called “Bayraktar” – with blast sounds synchronized with the beats – was uploaded to YouTube and broadcast on Ukrainian radio.
“So as long as they keep flying, as long as they’re still armed, they’ll be useful. They will be mainly useful for the propaganda side, “said Aaron Stein, director of research at the US-based Foreign Policy Research Institute.” The videos have kidnapped people because you can see an airstrike in high definition. “
Turkey started selling TB2 drones to Ukraine in 2019 and Kiev used them to fight Russian-backed separatists in the eastern Donbas region, a move Moscow called “destabilizing.”
Turkish officials have refused to disclose details of drone sales to Ukraine, including the number of people involved and whether Kiev is being supplied. Independent estimates put the number of TB2s in Ukraine between 20 and 50.
The drones – estimated at less than $ 2 million each – are produced by the defense company Baykar, which belongs to the family of Selcuk Bayraktar, son-in-law of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Bayraktar is Baykar’s chief technical officer.
TB2 has been credited with helping to overturn the balance of conflicts in Libya, as well as Turkey’s ally, Azerbaijan, in fighting with Armenian-backed forces in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region in 2020.
Ankara has also used drones against Kurdish militants in Turkey and northern Iraq, as well as against Kurdish fighters in Syria.
Such less expensive drones are likely to have a lasting impact on warfare as a useful attrition tool, as well as being able to attract the attention of more expensive enemy jets, Stein said.
“I would call it the Toyota Corolla of drones. … It doesn’t do everything your high-end sports car does, but it does 80% of it, right? “He said.” So even for a high-end army like the United States, the concept basic to use in an easily accessible and cheap platform to strike a superior force has intrinsic value. “
An untold number of U.S.-made drones will be among the additional $ 800 million in military assistance to Ukraine announced Wednesday by President Joe Biden. It also includes 800 Stinger anti-aircraft systems, 100 grenade launchers, 20 million small arms ammunition, grenade launchers and mortar rounds.
The White House assessed Ukraine’s access to US-made Switchblade drones capable of flying and hitting Russian targets, according to a person familiar with the matter who was not allowed to speak publicly. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the new drones Biden would be delivering to Ukraine included those or others.
___ Gatopoulos reported from Athens, Greece. Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed. Follow Gatopoulos a https://twitter.com/dgatopoulos and Fraser a https://twitter.com/suzanfraser ___ Follow AP’s coverage of Ukraine: http://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine