Artillery vehicle

Ukrainian drones are back, blasting Russian artillery in the south

Turkish-made Ukrainian drones detonate Russian equipment in southern Ukraine, helping clear the way for Ukrainian battalions as they fight their way to Russian-occupied Kherson.

Videos that circulated online Since Kyiv announced its long-awaited southern counteroffensive on Monday, propeller-driven 1.5-ton Bayraktar TB-2 drones have been hitting a Russian mortar team and self-propelled howitzer.

There have probably been a lot more drone strikes in the south in recent days – there’s just no visual evidence. Still.

The southern drone strikes underscore the durability of Ukraine’s TB-2 force as Russia’s wider war on Ukraine enters its sixth month. The Russians, despite their best efforts, failed to destroy enough TB-2s or support equipment to anchor the force.

The strikes also hint at the effects of the ongoing campaign to suppress enemy air defenses by the Ukrainian Air Force. The SEAD effort, combining Ukrainian MiGs with American-supplied anti-radar missiles, appears to have cleared the air for the slow and essentially defenseless TB-2s.

It was an open question, in the days leading up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the night of February 23, whether Ukraine’s roughly two dozen missile-armed TB-2s would even survive the first volley of Russian missiles.

A month later, it was evident that the TB-2s had not only survived, but had quickly sprung into action. During those critical first weeks of the war, TB-2s belonging to the Ukrainian Air Force and Navy dismantled entire sections of Russia’s frontline air defense network and then began to hitting Russian tanks, trucks, trains, command posts and even ships at sea.

Firing laser-guided 14-pound Smart Micro Munition missiles, the TB-2s have so far destroyed about 100 Russian vehicles, radars and command posts that outside analysts can confirm. The actual number of drone kills is undoubtedly much higher.

TB-2s played a central role in Ukraine’s sea ban campaign in the western Black Sea beginning in April. Drones reportedly distract crew of Russian Navy cruiser Moscow thus, a ground-based Neptune missile crew could strike the ship, eventually sinking it. TB-2s also blew up ships and helicopters supplying the Russian garrison on Snake Island, starving the garrison and eventually forcing it to evacuate.

It’s not a totally one-sided fight. In six months, the Russians have shot down 13 TB-2s and destroyed at least one of the ground-based radio relays that, possibly together with Turksat satellites, allow crews to control drones hundreds of miles away.

But Turkish drone maker Bayraktar made up for Ukraine’s drone losses. It is possible that the Ukrainian fleet of TB-2s is larger now than it was before the war.

Desperate and disappointed Russian forces in April even tried to make it look like they had shot down more TB-2s than they actually had, by staging old drone wrecks in a botched imitation of a more recent accident.

The Ukrainian campaign SEAD – MiG firing anti-radiation missiles at high speed – works in conjunction with the drone campaign. TB-2s are vulnerable to air defenses. The Ukrainians wrote off more TB-2s than any other type of warplane.

But as HARMs destroy more and more Russian radars, surface-to-air missile launchers and ground-based air defense guns, there are fewer obstacles to TB-2 strikes. Drone crews can hunt targets at will.

Ever freer to strike at Russian forces, TB-2s could play a key supporting role as the Ukrainian counteroffensive expands. The mortar and howitzer drone crews destroyed this week may be just the first of many casualties.

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