In the early months of the Russia-Ukraine war, Turkey’s Bayraktar TB2 drones were hailed as Ukraine’s savior and the future of warfare.
Multiple reports and videos surfaced of Ukraine using the weapons to strike Russian tanks, armor, and patrol boats. Their popularity even inspired a viral folk song.
However, a little over a year later, the once-prized drones have almost entirely been shot down, and those that remain reduced to reconnaissance duties, according to an expert.
“The general assessment of drones like TB2 is that they work well without sophisticated air and electronic warfare defenses arrayed against them,” Samuel Bendett, an analyst and expert in unmanned and robotic military systems at the Center for Naval Analyses, told Insider.
“As a relatively slow and low-flying UAV, it can become a target for a range of air defense systems that are well organized – we saw this in Libya and in Nagorno-Karabakh.”
While Russia was vulnerable to strikes from Ukrainian drones in the early months of the war, it soon adapted to improve its electronic warfare and has since been successfully downing and jamming many of Ukraine’s drones.
“Once the Russian military got its act together, it was able to down many TB2s,” Bendett said.
Ukraine said last year it had received 50 TB2 drones since the Russian invasion began, but by the end of 2022, it had largely disappeared from the battlefield.
The commander of the Russian air defense force, Lieutenant-General Andrey Demin, claimed that Russian forces had destroyed more than 100 of the drones in April.
Now, Ukraine mainly uses TB2s for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance purposes rather than for attacking, Bendett said.,
Ukrainian forces are using the drones’ “advanced optics and sensors to guide other drones for attacks while staying out of range of Russian air and EW systems,” he said.
Indeed, a recent assessment argues Russia is on the front foot in the drone war and estimated that its forces were taking down about 10,000 Ukrainian drones every month.
Electronic warfare is a “critical component” of Russia’s tactics and contributing to the enormous losses of Ukrainian drones, a report released by the UK’s Royal United Services Institute found.
The RUSI researchers said that after the Russian army’s “disaster” of a performance at the outset of the invasion, it adapted to Ukraine’s pushback, even as it struggled with poor morale and effective use of heavy armor and air-force attacks.
Ukraine still had the initiative, but “as the Russian military adapts, there can be no room for complacency,” it said.