On September 14, 1814, 35 year old Francis Scott Key wrote a poem called “Defence of Fort M’Henry” after watching the Battle of Baltimore. Inspired by how the flag, the star-spangled banner, survived the bombardment of British forces, Key penned the words that would go on to become the national anthem of the United States of America. More than 200 years later, Ukrainian soldier and folk singer Taras Borovok released what has quickly become a new anthem for Ukrainians fighting for their freedom. The song, titled Bayraktar, is an homage to the drones that have been paramount in maintaining Ukrainian military dominance.
When Russia first invaded Ukraine in February of 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky sent out a plea to any citizens with a drone to volunteer their time. He instructed the Ministry of Defense to post the following message on Facebook, “Do you own a drone? Give it to experienced pilots to use! Do you know how to drive a drone? Join the joint patrol with units 112 of the separate brigade of the city of Kyiv!” This call was not for people to use drones defensively, but as added surveillance for situational awareness. For drones with defensive capabilities, Ukraine already had a small supply of the Turkish produced Bayraktar TB2 combat drones.
Developed by Baykar, a privately owned defense firm, the Bayraktar TB2 is becoming for Ukraine what the Predator and Reaper drones, made by General Atomics, are for the US Armed Forces. At one time, the word “drone” was synonymous with the Predator or Reaper. Today, drones have become one of the fastest growing commercial markets. Drones are being used in countless civilian enterprises and have become a trademark of modern military operations. But, for many smaller governments, being able to afford a Predator ($40 million) or Reaper ($32 million) is not feasible.
While the Bayraktar is considerably smaller and somewhat less advanced than the drones built by General Atomics, they still hold their own. At an estimated $5 million, the Bayraktar is a drone that the Ukrainian government can afford. Ukraine first bought a shipment of Bayraktar TB2 drones in 2019. The exact number of units purchased is unknown but suspected to be around 20. The Medium-Altitude Long-Endurance (MALE) drone has a service ceiling of 8,200m over a 150km range, with a maximum speed of 220km/h. The bi-wing drone weighs 500kg when empty. When fully loaded with 4 point laser-guided smart munitions, the drone has a maximum weight of 650kg.
These drones have been responsible for some of Ukraine’s greatest victories as of yet. Videos posted to Twitter, and other social media platforms, show the devastation inflicted on Russian hardware by the Bayraktar TB2 drones. These videos, which President Zelensky supports, are being used to show Russian troops the reality of the war they are fighting. The videos, along with Borovok’s Bayraktar, have also been bolstering the spirits of Ukrainians in diaspora and at home. One of the final verses of Borovok’s anthem is “They wanted to invade us with force, and we took offense at these orcs. Russian bandits are made into ghosts by…Bayraktar! Bayraktar!” Only time will tell when this war will end, but with drones on their side, Ukraine is being given a fighting chance at victory.