In five months of hard fighting, Russian forces shot down at least 12 of Ukraine’s Turkish-made Bayraktar TB-2 drones.
But they didn’t succeed in targeting the ground stations that are necessary for the TB-2’s operations—until now.
On Thursday, a video circulated on social media depicting what appears to be a Russian Lancet loitering munition—a “suicide drone,” if you will—striking a twin-mast radio relay, reportedly in Kherson Oblast in southern Ukraine.
The relay matches the system visible in the backgrounds of photos of TB-2s belonging to the Ukrainian air force and navy.
Relays help extend the range of the 1.5-ton, propeller-driven TB-2, allowing the missile-armed drone to fly hundreds of miles from its operators sitting in their radio-equipped command trailer.
The relays receive and rebroadcast the command signals the crews send to their drones—and bounce back the video from the drones.
Without relays, the drones wouldn’t be capable of ranging farther than the broadcast range of the main control trailer—a couple hundred miles, at most.
The alternative to the relays, of course, is satellites. The TB-2 is compatible with Turkey’s Turksat communications satellites. Because we’ve seen TB-2s range across Ukraine—not a small country—we can assume the Ukrainian armed forces have access to Turksats.
If they don’t, we can assume they’re making good use of their relays.
It’s obvious why the Russians would target the relays—and the rest of Ukraine’s drone infrastructure, too. TB-2s and other drones have knocked out scores, if not hundreds, of Russian vehicles, artillery pieces, ships and command posts—and even a couple supply trains.
What’s telling is that, in the five months since widening its war on Ukraine, Russia has managed to locate and destroy just this one relay that we know of. By moving their trailers, relays and drones, the Ukrainians have succeeded in preserving their TB-2 force.
Yes, Russian air-defenses have knocked down at least a dozen TB-2s. But Kyiv had at least 20 TB-2 going into the wider war—and since has acquired at least another 20.