The drone that is keeping the Russians at bay in Ukraine

The brainchild of an MIT-educated Turkish engineer, the drone is changing the face of warfare in ways that only happen every couple of generations

The New Yorker has a fascinating article in its current edition about the Bayraktar TB2, a drone that is helping to balance the scales in Russia’s war with Ukraine:

A video posted toward the end of February on the Facebook page of Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, showed grainy aerial footage of a Russian military convoy approaching the city of Kherson. Russia had invaded Ukraine several days earlier, and Kherson, a shipbuilding hub at the mouth of the Dnieper River, was an important strategic site. At the center of the screen, a targeting system locked onto a vehicle in the middle of the convoy; seconds later, the vehicle exploded, and a tower of burning fuel rose into the sky. “Behold the work of our life-giving Bayraktar!” Zaluzhnyi’s translated caption read. “Welcome to Hell!”

Because it is a fraction of the cost of Israeli and American payload-carrying drones, it’s proving to be popular:

In April, 2016, the TB2 scored its first confirmed kill. Since then, it has been sold to at least thirteen countries, bringing the tactic of the precision air strike to the developing world and reversing the course of several wars. In 2020, in the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan’s dictatorial leader, Ilham Aliyev, used the TB2 to target vehicles and troops, then displayed footage of the strikes on digital billboards in the capital city of Baku.

The TB2 has now carried out more than eight hundred strikes, in conflicts from North Africa to the Caucasus. The bombs it carries can adjust their trajectories in midair, and are so accurate that they can be delivered into an infantry trench. Military analysts had previously assumed that slow, low-flying drones would be of little use in conventional combat, but the TB2 can take out the anti-aircraft systems that are designed to destroy it. “This enabled a fairly significant operational revolution in how wars are being fought right now,” Rich Outzen, a former State Department specialist on Turkey, told me. “This probably happens once every thirty or forty years.”

From an engineering standpoint this is all very interesting. From the standpoint of guerilla warfare and terrorism, I’m thinking it’s only a matter of time until the technology will advance to the point that civilians around the world will be targeted in non-combat ways we’ve not yet imagined. I’ve been reading predictions along those lines for years. It’s scary how close we’ve come to reality.

If I were Armenian? Well….

The Bayraktar TB2 on a runway. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

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