A cheer rings out in a secret command centre. On the screen, another Russian missile launcher has vanished in a cloud of shrapnel and smoke. Working miles behind the front line, a team of Ukrainian drone operators is trying to turn the tide of the war against the Kremlin’s forces. The most effective weapon in their arsenal is the Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2. Soaring 160 meters above the battlefield, it delivers death at the push of a button. So fearsome is its reputation that it has inspired a love song that has gone viral in Ukraine and even a video game.
Lightweight and with a small profile, the Bayraktars are designed to evade anti-air systems and stay undetected for as long as possible, weighing in at less than a sixth of the US’s flagship Predator drone. At the same time, its 12-meter wingspan helps it stay in the air for as long as 30-hours. Plenty of time to unleash its four laser-guided missiles. Russia, meanwhile, lacks any attack drones. Instead, they rely on reconnaissance vehicles to guide their artillery. And where the American Predator drone costs around £30 million, the Turkish equivalent can be bought for as little as £750,000.
The Bayraktars’ success has cemented Turkey’s status as one of the world’s leading drone makers. Despite close relations with Russia, Ankara has long supported Ukraine by sending it extra Bayraktars in recent months, in addition to around two dozen it has sold to Kiev since 2019. Even more concerning for commanders in Moscow was the news last year that Ukraine had struck a deal to co-produce the TB2 locally as part of a partnership agreement.
For the last few years, Turkey has been quietly arming countries in Russia’s backyard with advanced aerospace technology.