New Turkish Bayraktar Drones Still Seem To Be Reaching Ukraine


Snake Island saw some dramatic action last weekend, including a high-speed, low-level bombing run by Ukrainian jets and a series of strikes by Bayraktar TB2 drones which sank two patrol boats and a landing craft carrying a surface-to air missile system, then destroyed an Mi-8 helicopter as it was dropping troops on to the island. But for Russia, the biggest concern may have been a number on one of the Bayraktar video displays: a registration showing it was a brand new drone straight off the production line.

The Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 is the most celebrated drone of the age. While the New Yorker’s headline Monday of The Turkish Drone That Changed the Nature of Warfare has set some eyeballs rolling, its previous success in Libya and Syria and most especially Nagorno-Karabakh, where it ripped through hundreds of Armenia’s Russian-supplied armored vehicles, suggested that the Bayraktar could be a key element of Ukraine’s defense. Many experts (myself included) were doubtful that the Bayraktar could prevail against Russian air superiority and integrated surface-to-air systems, but we were rapidly proved wrong – by Feb. 28, I was noting how Russia’s inability to stop Bayraktars signified larger problems with their military machine.

Certainly Russia seems to hate the Turkish-supplied drones and posts inflated claims of the number of Bayraktars shot down, even faking extra kills by re-arranging wreckage for new pictures.

But some Bayraktars are getting shot down, and Ukraine’s original fleet of an estimated 36 drones is steadily being depleted with at least seven losses according to Oryx’s definitive tally. Turkey has remained avowedly neutral in this conflict, being highly dependent on Russian gas and wheat, and has positioned itself as a mediator, and the Turkish government, unlike many other NATO members, is not supplying Ukraine with arms. Ankara has refused to comment on whether private arms sales were permitted, so it was assume that no more Bayraktars would be delivered. Hence proposals for the U.S. to supply Ukraine with MQ-9 Reapers or other drones to augment its fleet.


But an open source intelligence analyst with the Twitter handle @ameliaairheart noted an interesting feature of one of the Snake Island strikes: the Bayraktar video feed, which is normally sanitized to crop out digital identifying information, was left intact. This shows that the attack was carried out from Ground Control Station 13, operating a Bayraktar with the registration T253.

The analyst then matched this registration with open source flight data from Turkey, which showed that TB2 T253 carried out a test flight south of Baykar’s flight test facility near Keşan in Turkey on March 21, just six weeks ago.

“This strongly suggests that Ukraine is getting TB2s quickly off the production line,” they conclude.

Another analyst, @Intelassess, notes that a Bayraktar with registration T261 has also been spotted in Ukraine, and that T258-T262 went through testing together at Keşan. As the drones are normally supplied in batches of six, this suggests that Ukraine may have received at least two such batches since the start of the war. Others have tracked recent flights seemingly from the Baykar factory to Poland.

Of course the video data may be faked, or Ukraine may simply be tweaking the registration numbers displayed to confuse Russia about how may Bayraktars they have left.

Even before the war this was a sensitive topic for Turkey. In October, Turkish Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu asked Ukraine to stop mentioning Turkey in connection with drone imports: “If a country has purchased a weapon from us or another country, then that weapon cannot be labeled as Turkish or Russian or Ukrainian.”

Since the war, the Turkish government has stressed that pre-war sales to Ukraine were a private deal and nothing to do with them.

“These are private companies and these drone purchases had been done before the war as well,” stated a high-ranking official quoted by Reuters.

Until now we have had no indication that Turkey continued to supply Bayraktars to Ukraine. But if the new analysis is correct, then Baykar is supplying Ukraine with new drones as fast as they can make them, presumably with the tacit approval of the government.

President Zelensky has noted that Bayraktars are not decisive on their own and that missiles and artillery are also vital, but the drones provide an important capability when the Ukrainian air forces jets can only carry out a handful of sorties each day. If Ukraine really has received 12 or more, then they may now have more Bayraktars than when they started the conflict. Now they are setting ablaze oil storage depots across the border in Russia, making history by being the first armed drones to sink military vessels, helping sink Russia’s Black Sea flagship and destroying the air defense systems that are supposed to shoot them down.

It seems like Russia’s Bayraktar problem is only going to get worse.


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