Explosions in Armenia broadcast on YouTube in 2020 revealed this new form of war to the world. There, in a blue-tinted video, a radar dish rotates under a cyan reticle until it erupts in a puff of smoke. The action repeats twice: a sight targets a vehicle mounted with a rotating saucer sensor, the earthen barriers provide no defense against air attacks and leave an empty crater.
The clip, released on YouTube on September 27, 2020, was one of several Azerbaijani militaries published during the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, which it launched that very day against neighboring Armenia. The video was recorded by the TB2.
In that conflict and others, the TB2 has filled a void in the arms market created by the US government’s refusal to export its high-end Predator family of drones. To get around export restrictions on drone models and other critical military technologies, Baykar turned to technologies readily available on the commercial market to create a new weapon of war.
The TB2 is built in Turkey from a mix of domestically made parts and parts sourced from international commercial markets. Investigations of downed Bayraktars have revealed components coming from US companies, including a GPS receiver made by Trimble, an airborne modem/transceiver made by Viasat, and a Garmin GNC 255 navigation radio. Garmin, which makes consumer GPS products, released a statement noting that the navigation unit in TB2s “is not designed or intended for military use, nor is it even designed or intended for use in drones.” But it’s there.
Commercial technology makes the TB2 attractive for another reason: while the US-made Reaper drone costs $28 millionthe TB2 only costs approx $5 million. Since its development in 2014, the TB2 has surfaced in conflicts in Azerbaijan, Libya, Ethiopia and now Ukraine. The drone is so much cheaper than traditional weapons Lithuanians have been running crowdfunding campaigns to help buy them for the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
The TB2 is just one of many examples of commercial drone technology being used in combat. The same DJI Mavic quadcopters that help real estate agents inspect properties have been deployed in conflicts in Burkina Faso and the Donbas region of Ukraine. Other DJI drone models have been spotted in Syria since 2013and kit-built drones, assembled from commercially available parts, are widely used.