Ukraine Reportedly Has 20 TB-2 Drones. They Might Not Matter In A Wider War With Russia. – Forbes

Ukraine’s then-president Petro Poroshenko inspects a new TB-2 in 2019.
We knew Ukraine had Turkish-made hunter-killer drones, each capable of finding and destroying enemy armored vehicles without exposing crews to enemy fire. We didn’t know many of the propeller-driven Bayraktar TB-2s Kiev managed to acquire as a powerful Russian army massed along the border with Ukraine.
Until now. “All in all, Ukraine has approximately 20 Bayraktar drones, but we will not stop there,” Lt. Col. Yuri Ignat, a Ukrainian air force spokesperson, told Amberin Zaman, a reporter for Al-Monitor.
Twenty drones might not seem like a lot when even Ukraine’s weary air force possesses around 125 manned combat aircraft—and Russia’s own air force can muster hundreds of manned planes for an attack on Ukraine.
The Ukrainian armed-drone fleet perhaps seems even more minuscule considering Russia has staged thousands of armored vehicles—enough for at least 75 battalion tactical groups—within quick striking distance of Ukraine.
But the TB-2 in the right conditions and with the right support is a potent weapon. The 21-foot-long, camera-equipped drone, operated by a three-person crew on the ground, can carry a pair of Smart Micro Munition guided missiles as far as 80 miles in line-of-sight mode.
During a brief but bitter territorial war in 2020, Azerbaijan’s fleet of reportedly around 10 TB-2s destroyed no fewer than 567 Armenian vehicles, artillery pieces and air-defense systems. It was a bloody rout for the Armenians.
Russia isn’t Armenia. And a possible, wider war between Russia and Ukraine would be much more violent—and dangerous for anything that flies—than the relatively low-intensity Azerbaijan-Armenia war.
True, the TB-2 makes for a fleeting target. And it’s worth noting that Azerbaijan’s TB-2s not only managed to slip past Armenian air-defenses most of the time, the drones also wreaked havoc on those defenses. TB-2s knocked out three Strela-10 short-range air-defense vehicles, 16 Osa SHORAD vehicles and a ZSU-23-4 mobile gun.
In return, the Armenians shot down two, maybe three, of the TB-2s. Armenia reportedly tried and failed to jam the drones’ command signal using its Krasukha-4 electronic-warfare vehicles.
But Russian forces have more and better air-defense and electronic-warfare systems than Armenian forces have, or had. Russia deploys thousands of overlapping man-portable missiles and self-propelled guns and surface-to-air missiles.
That said, Russian forces have struggled at times to counter small drones. Islamic State militants and anti-regime rebels repeatedly launched swarms of explosives-laden small drones at Russian bases in Syria.
Russian radio-jammers scrambled some of the drones. Pantsir air-defense vehicles shot down others. But a few got through.
A TB-2 is bigger than an off-the-shelf quadcopter— and, in theory, easier to detect. But it’s also faster. And it can fire its missiles at targets miles away.
All these factors might be moot, however. It doesn’t matter how effective Ukraine’s drones are, or how ineffective Russia’s air-defenses might be against them, if the drones never get off the ground.
A devastating bombardment by artillery, air- and sea-launched cruise missiles and ground-based ballistic missiles surely would precede a Russian offensive across Ukraine.
Considering how much the Russians fear and loathe the TB-2, the drone units—their command trailers, transmitters and crews and the air-vehicles themselves—undoubtedly would be near the top of the list of targets.
Undeterred, Kiev has placed orders for additional TB-2s—and also has inked a deal with Turkey to produce the drone under license.

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