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Ukraine's Bayraktar TB2 drones appear to be back in combat — and with devastating effect, reports say

Nathan Rennolds   

Ukraine's Bayraktar TB2 drones appear to be back in combat — and with devastating effect, reports say
  • The TB2 drone was almost written off as Russia's defenses appeared to have got the better of them.
  • But reports say they are flying again and hitting Russian targets with devastating effect.

Video footage shared by Ukraine's Navy appeared to show a Bayraktar TB2 unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) destroying a Russian KS-701 patrol boat in the Black Sea — a sign that the formidable Turkish-built drone is back in operation.

In the grisly clip, which was shared on Telegram on September 3, black and white footage shows figures moving around on a boat before it's engulfed by a devastating explosion.

The caption with the video says: "In the north-western part of the Black Sea, during an attempt to land enemy personnel, the naval aviation of the Ukrainian Navy destroyed an enemy boat of the type KS-701 Tunets. The enemy suffered losses amounting to 6 killed and two wounded invaders."

Another video that went viral on social media the same day featured the destruction of a Russian military's Ural truck in the Kherson region, also appeared to show the TB2 Bayraktar in action.

Why the TB2 has returned to devastating action could be a testament to the months Ukraine has spent degrading Russia's air defense systems, hitting Putin's forces deep behind the frontline with HIMARS, missiles, and pinpoint drone attacks.

"That TB-2s again are firing missiles at Russian troops is a strong indicator that Russian air defenses in the south are in trouble," wrote David Axe in Forbes.

Indeed, the TB2 Bayraktar sorties revival came a week after a prized advanced S-400 Triumf was spectacularly destroyed in Crimea.

Highly praised by Moscow, the formidable S-400 — a successor to the older S-200 and S-300 — can engage cruise and ballistic missiles, as well as aircraft and drones, and is considered the Russian equivalent to the American Patriot system.

The rise and fall of the Bayraktar TB2

Ukraine used the Turkish-made drones extensively at the start of the war when they were hailed as the future of modern warfare and Ukraine's savior following the demolition of its Navy in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea.

There were repeated reports of the UCAVs being used to target Russian tanks, armor, and patrol boats, and there was even a propaganda song glorifying them.

But by May 2023, the drones had been largely wiped out, with many of those remaining in operation relegated to reconnaissance roles.

"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, previously 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 Nagorno-Karabakh," he added.

Russia worked fast to improve its air and electronic defenses at the start of the war following Ukraine's early successes, becoming adept at jamming and destroying many of Ukraine's drones.

"Once the Russian military got its act together, it was able to down many TB2s," Bendett said.

The 21-foot-long drones, which have an operational altitude of 18,000 feet and can reach a maximum altitude of 25,000 feet, can fly for as long as 27 hours and can be fitted with four laser-guided smart munitions, according to Baykar, the manufacturer.

It adds that there are 257 Bayraktar drones in operation, serving Turkey, Qatar, Ukraine, and Azerbaijan.