Tuesday, 8 March 2022

The Fate Of Nations: Turkish Support To Ukraine’s Plight

By Joost Oliemans and Stijn Mitzer
The still early but shockingly brutal invasion of Ukraine by Putin's Russia has thrown the historically tragedy-ridden country back into some of its darkest days. Besieged from three directions whilst a vastly larger military force rains down fire on any target with little to no regard for civilian life, it is struggling for its very right to exist – with Vladimir Putin repeatedly making allusions to his intention of essentially dissolving the country into Russia. Under these circumstances, and with this grim prospective, the Ukrainian people would be forgiven for feeling hopeless and abandoned.
Yet in the past weeks they have shown quite the opposite, with their resilience and determination in the face of a numerically superior invading force surprising many, not in the least the invasion's architects in Moscow (one must presume). Equally surprising has been the discovery of the Russian military's ineptitude and unpreparedness in a conflict it should have been ideally suited to fight, in terms of preparation, choice of theater and even the type of warfare required. Both the Ukrainian people's extraordinary hardiness and the Russian Army's failings have been recorded in HD, uploaded and broadcast a million times over to a world that is now more instantly connected than during any conflict of the past. Among the many icons of resistance that have rapidly been thrust into the limelight (not the least of which is the Ukrainian farmer) is a piece of equipment that has come to dominate many conflicts of the past decade: The Turkish Bayraktar TB2. [1]
Most analysts were doubtful Ukraine's ∼20 TB2s would even be able to survive the opening stages of the war, expecting most to be destroyed on the ground with the rest shot down shortly after taking off, let alone replicate its successes gained during conflicts such as those in Libya, Syria and Nagorno-Karakbakh. [2] [3] [4] In particular, those successes were usually explained as the result of inadequate integrated air-defence systems (IADS) active in the area of operation as well as the low intensity of those conflicts, failing to note that many of Russia's most modern air defence systems were in fact operated throughout those wars, with the Armenian battlespace at the time representing some of the densest air defence networks in the world. [5] As footage began to leak or be released of TB2s alive and well in the skies of Ukraine, racking up impressive victories against Russian air defences and supply lines, it rapidly became clear this line of reasoning was faulty. And perhaps unexpectedly, both the Ukrainian public and its supporters abroad rallied behind the drone, which became a symbol of defiance to an invader that seemed to have overplayed its hand. The Bayraktar TB2 has suddenly become a slogan everyone's familiar with, serving as inspiration for animal names, used in viral videos and even sporting its own custom-made theme song. [6] [7] [8] [9]

An unsuspecting Russian Army Buk-M2 SAM system guarding the 40-mile-long Russian convoy outside Ukraine's capital Kyiv is struck by a MAM-L munition fired from a Ukrainian Bayraktar TB2.

Though the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) has already claimed more TB2s destroyed than were in Ukraine's pre-war inventory, in fact evidence for not one shootdown is at the moment publically available. To those following the TB2's exploits in recent conflicts closely, their success is less mysterious. A combination of resistance against jamming and spoofing, small radar cross section (simply by virtue of their small size) and perhaps most importantly the ability to engage from great distances with pinpoint accuracy means that they count amongst the most difficult targets to detect and engage for air defence systems.

In the meantime, the company behind the Bayraktar TB2, Baykar Tech, has agreed to send more UCAVs to the embattled country, the first batch having already arrived at its destination. [10] Given the rather apparent threat to Ukraine's statehood and the close cooperation between Turkish and Ukrainian defence companies in the past, few should be surprised upon hearing of further deliveries of the TB2. Of course, now that the receiving country has become an active warzone, there is a clear political component to Turkey's support. Nevertheless, Ukraine's MoD is keeping publications about these drones to a minimum, in an effort not to draw too much attention to one of its most potent assets. In fact, all previous content relating to the TB2 had been leaked online before it was published officially, further affirming that, while the drones are active, their activities are intentionally being obscured.

One of the few clips of the Bayraktar TB2 released shows it striking a Russian supply train carrying badly needed fuel to the front in Ukraine. This strike took place on the Crimean Peninsula, well within the range of Russia's vaunted S-400 SAM system.

By sending some of the most modern UCAVs currently available Turkey is celebrating a bilateral relationship that has grown rapidly in the past years, quite outside of the context of Ukraine's aspirations of becoming a NATO member and Turkey's already being one. As such, its decision to take a stance during Russia's onprovoked invasion of the former nation is a signal that it is prepared to defend its own interests even at the risk of drawing the ire from another large geopolitical power. The fact that in so doing it is helping defeat an attack on free Europe happens to make that decision a popular one with its NATO allies, resulting in a dramatic change of narrative in most Western nations with regards to Turkey over the past weeks.

Despite the attraction TB2s and additional deliveries thereof are garnering in the international press, Turkey's efforts currently amount to no more than a fraction of its drone capabilities. Crucially, while the TB2 has managed to decide the fates of nations with its performance in the skies of Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh, it doesn't even represent the latest piece of hardware to come from Turkey's Baykar Tech. [11] As Ukraine's savage war concludes its second week any motivation to support the Ukrainian plight can only have increased, and the future may well hold more arms deliveries from its Turkish ally. In particular, long-ranged precision-guided weapons systems like the TRLG-230 and the Bayraktar Akıncı could be absolutely devastating in a war that at this point is becoming characterised by long lines of armour, sitting ducks on open highways in the Ukrainian countryside. The synergy between UCAVs like the TB2 and the Akıncı and the laser-guided TRLG-230 is remarkable, with the latter essentially extending the former's arsenal so that they can wreak unlimited havoc once a target has been designated, without ever having to come within range of enemy air defences. With the Russian invasion seemingly at a critical stage, it is precisely this type of weaponry that could sway the fate of nations, once more.

The Bayraktar TB2's devastating day and night attacks on Russian targets in Ukraine earned them instant fame around the world, with some drawing parallels to the 'Night Witches' of World War II.

[1] A Monument Of Victory: The Bayraktar TB2 Kill List https://www.oryxspioenkop.com/2021/12/a-monument-of-victory-bayraktar-tb2.html
[2] An Unmanned Interdictor: Bayraktar TB2s Over Libya https://www.oryxspioenkop.com/2021/11/an-unmanned-interdictor-bayraktar-tb2s.html 
[3] The Idlib Turkey Shoot: The Destruction and Capture of Vehicles and Equipment by Turkish and Rebel Forces https://www.oryxspioenkop.com/2020/02/the-idlib-turkey-shoot-destruction-and.html
[5] Business In The Baltics: Latvia Expresses Interest In The Bayraktar TB2 https://www.oryxspioenkop.com/2021/06/business-in-baltics-latvia-expresses.html 
[11] Arsenal of the Future: The Akıncı And Its Loadout https://www.oryxspioenkop.com/2021/06/arsenal-of-future-aknc-and-its-loadout.html