Thursday, 2 June 2022

Go-Fund Ukraine: Baykar Tech Donates TB2 For Ukraine After Lithuanian Crowdfunder

By Joost Oliemans and Stijn Mitzer

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is about to mark its one hundredth day. With its goals unreached, its army struck back, a country in ruins, and the scope of its destruction ever escalating, the Special Operation is increasingly starting to resemble the war that should never have been fought – the one that determines not just the future of Ukraine, but also of Russia and with it the entirety of Europe. The Russian military now finds itself in an entirely new phase of the conflict, wherein the dice of fate are recast as Russian objectives have taken on a much more limited and realistic character, yet stocks of modern weaponry are depleting, and Ukraine is beginning to field ever more advanced NATO-supplied armament. [1]

Though Ukraine's fighters and its civilian population deserve the sole credit for their remarkable resilience in the face of one of the largest invading forces amassed in the 20th century, for its continued resistance Ukraine is increasingly relying on the support of allied nations, be it financial or military. Yet even on the civilian front, support for Ukraine's plight has been substantial, with foreign volunteers, donations and even crowdfunded equipment making a substantial impact on its operations. To these efforts can now be added a remarkable first in modern warfare: the first crowdfunded unmanned aerial combat vehicle (UCAV) to be donated to any nation.

In a public campaign organised by Lithuanian journalist Andrius Tapinas on the 25th of May, support was asked from the Lithuanian public to raise 5 million euros to enable the purchase of a Turkish Bayraktar TB2. By the 30th of May this goal had been reached, yet donations continued to come in from across the globe to reach a final amount of €5.915.207, – enough to acquire the weapons system and have cash to spare. [2] Upon consolidation of the deal with the Turkish tech giant Baykar however, the company which produces the TB2, it was announced that the UCAV would instead be gifted to Lithuania free of charge, with the suggestion that the money raised should go to humanitarian aid for Ukraine. Tapinas himself later confirmed that it had been decided 4.4 million euros would be spent on humanitarian, defensive or rebuilding projects for Ukraine, with the other 1.5 million dedicated to armament for the drone. [3]

Lithuania's Deputy Minister of Defence Vilius Semeška (middle) poses with the Lithuanian TB2 along with Baykar Tech's CEO Haluk Bayraktar (left) and CTO Selçuk Bayraktar (right).

The TB2 has taken on a reputation as one of the most cost-effective combat systems currently on the market over the course of a series of conflicts where it has essentially dominated the battlefield. [4] Over the skies of Syria, Libya and Nagorno Karabakh it demonstrated an ability to essentially alter the course of conflicts, though its performance in modern large-scale conflicts remained arguably unproven. [5] [6] [7] With Turkey one of Ukraine's most staunchest supporters prior to the current conflict, delivering around 18 of the systems to Ukraine's Air Force and Navy, this would soon change. [8] [9] Its lethality and continued prowess following Russia's invasion quickly led to it becoming a symbol of Ukrainian resistance, with the drone pulling off several daring raids on Russian/Belarusian territories as well as near the famous Snake Island in the past weeks.

The onset of the conflict quickly prioritised the delivery of further UCAVs, with Turkey once again taking the lead in delivering heavy armament when it sent another batch of some 16+ TB2s and Mini-Bayraktars in March. [10] Though the effective cost of the TB2 is likely to be somewhat higher than its 5 million euros price, the real bottleneck to further deliveries is almost certainly ramping up production. The TB2 is perhaps the most biggest success yet in the UCAV market, with at least 20 confirmed customers using or having bought the product. [11] This is likely the reason behind the blisteringly fast response of Baykar at the outset of the war, delivering another batch that must have been diverted either from its own stocks or some of its many export clients. This also means that further deliveries are limited to what nations operating the type are willing to cede, or Baykar's admittedly very rapid production rate.

That more UCAVs will be involved in Europe's defence is a certainty. Just last year, Lithuania's neighbour of Latvia also expressed interest in the TB2, and both Poland and Albania have allocated budgets to purchase the weapons system, with the former set to receive its first of a batch of 24 later this year. [11] [12] Moreover, Lithuania's Deputy Defence Minister Vilius Semeška, who headed the delegation to Turkey to discuss the delivery of the crowdfunded TB2, said that the possible acquisition of a system (consisting of 6 drones) had also been discussed. [13] Especially in conjunction with a potential Latvian purchase, this could mean the formation of a Baltic deterrent against further Russian aggression in the region.
5.9 million euros may be just a drop in the bucket when it comes to the damage being exacted to Ukraine, and the ongoing costs of one of the most destructive wars of modernity. Yet there is more value in this effort than just another combat system to thrown into the fray. It shows that there is still the ability to stand united as a people against naked aggression, to make a difference for the better in a world that can itself seem indifferent and grim. If anything, it shows once more that Ukraine is not alone. 

[1] Answering The Call: Heavy Weaponry Supplied To Ukraine
[4] A Monument Of Victory: The Bayraktar TB2 Kill List 
[5] The Idlib Turkey Shoot: The Destruction and Capture of Vehicles and Equipment by Turkish and Rebel Forces
[6] An Unmanned Interdictor: Bayraktar TB2s Over Libya
[8] The Fate Of Nations: Turkish Support To Ukraine’s Plight
[9] Defending Ukraine - Listing Russian Military Equipment Destroyed By Bayraktar TB2s
[11] An International Export Success: Global Demand For The Bayraktar TB2 Reaches All Time High
[12] Business In The Baltics: Latvia Expresses Interest In The Bayraktar TB2  

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