Ukraine unleashes Turkey's Bayraktar TB2 drones on Russia: Is it a gamechanger?
Turkey's TB2 Bayraktar drones is 6.5 metres long and half the weight of its US counterpart, the Reaper, carrying four laser-guided munitions.
Bayraktar TB2 drone
The pride of Ankara, Turkish combat drones were quickly put into action by Ukraine following Russia's invasion.
But while they have proved their worth in several recent conflicts -- from Syria to Libya to Nagorno-Karabakh -- the terrain this time is less favourable, experts say.
Kyiv has around 20 Bayraktar TB2 drones, built by the Turkish military.
Relatively cheap and effective, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been their number one salesman, securing deals with around 15 countries around the world.
Drones target targeting Russian columns
The Ukrainian ambassador in Ankara has regularly tweeted images of explosions attributed to the drones, targeting Russian columns and artillery, with accompanying phrases like: "#c -- "Mashallah (God be praised)" and strings of joyous emojis.
"These TB2 strikes are, in comparison to ground combat, relatively small in number, but important for Ukrainian morale precisely because it shows Russia does not control the skies," said Aaron Stein, of the Foreign Policy Research Institute.
Russian air power vs Ukraine's drones
But the positive assessment also rests on Russia's surprising reticence to use its full airpower.
"The Russian air campaign has baffled experts, including myself, who made the incorrect assumption that they would be far more active over Ukraine," said Stein.
Russian air power will overwhelm Ukraine's drones "at some point in the near future," he predicted.
Several conflicts in recent years have offered a shop window for Turkey's drones. They were a determining factor in Nagorno-Karabakh in November 2020, giving Azerbaijan's forces the edge over Armenia in the disputed region.
In Libya a year earlier, they were crucial to repelling a protracted offensive by rebel commander, General Khalifa Haftar, against the government in Tripoli.
Turkey has also deployed drones against Kurdish militants and government forces in Syria -- the latter backed by Russia.
TB2 vs US Reaper
The TB2 is 6.5 metres long and half the weight of its US counterpart, the Reaper, carrying four laser-guided munitions.
Its maker Baykar says it can fly for 27 hours, at up to 220 kilometres per hour, and is operational between 18,000 and 25,000 feet.
"The fact that a relatively light and inexpensive drone could not only evade but actively search out and destroy modern surface-to-air missile and electronic warfare systems, while suffering little losses in return, has rightfully garnered worldwide attention," said Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans, of the specialist ORYX blog.
"The result of the TB2's entry into combat was a stunning upset of the status quo, forcing many countries to rethink their approach to defence."
Russia has estimated inventory of 500 UAVs
They may be able to hit scattered Russian equipment, Ulgen added, but are unlikely to reach the most important and best protected assets, particularly those stationed around the capital.
Twenty drones is "just not enough the tip the tide of battle, even if they were highly effective," agreed Mark Cancian, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
"We should keep in mind that the Russians have an estimated inventory of 500 UAVs (unmanned air vehicles), many of which are more capable than Ukraine's. Russia is certainly using them as well."
UAVs in the Syrian conflict
Russia has advanced UAV programmes with its world-class Orion combat drone. Russia has used its expertise in UAVs in the Syrian conflict since 2015.
Russia reportedly uses EW training as part of its drill. The country had reportedly used counter-UAV exercises while deploying the Silok-01 R-934BMV jamming station.
It can reportedly render the UAS toothless by disabling the communication system.
Artificial intelligence in Orion
Putin said the military already had more than 2,000 drones at its disposal. The Russian President said drones had proven their effectiveness in recent conflicts and that Russia had developed defences against their use, including against "terrorist drone attacks" in Syria.
In fact, Kronshtadt Company had said unmanned aerial vehicles like the Orion are becoming more autonomous with the introduction of artificial intelligence.
Drone development is part of a major push for weapons development under Putin, who has made increased Russian military might a cornerstone of his two-decade rule.
A new generation of the Sukhoi stealth fighter jet -- dubbed "The Checkmate" -- was unveiled last year with the ability to carry and launch drones in flight.