Consumer military drones have changed the way wars are fought

Consumer military drones have changed the way wars are fought

Consumer military drones have changed the way wars are fought

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The explosions in Armenia, broadcast on YouTube in 2020, revealed this new form of warfare to the world. There, in blue-tinted video, a radar dish spins under a cyan reticle until it bursts into a cloud of smoke. The action repeats twice: a reticle targets a vehicle equipped with a rotating antenna sensor, its earth barriers providing no defense against air attacks, leaving an empty crater behind.


The clip, released on YouTube on September 27, 2020, was one of many the Azerbaijani military released during the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, which it launched against neighboring Armenia on the same day. The video was recorded by the TB2.

It encompasses all the horrors of war, with the added voyeurism of a camera that doesn’t blink.

In this 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 circumvent export restrictions on drone models and other critical military technologies, Baykar turned to technologies readily available in the commercial market to manufacture a new weapon of war.

The TB2 is built in Turkey from a mix of domestically manufactured parts and parts sourced from international commercial markets. Investigations into the downed Bayraktars revealed components from American 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 GPS products general public, issued a statement stating that its navigation unit found in TB2s “is not designed or intended for military use, and it is not even designed or intended for use in drones”. But there it is.

Commercial technology makes the TB2 appealing for another reason: While the US-made Reaper drone costs $28 million, the TB2 only costs around $5 million. Since its development in 2014, the TB2 has appeared in conflicts in Azerbaijan, Libya, Ethiopia and now Ukraine. The drone is so much more affordable than traditional weapons that Lithuanians have started crowdfunding campaigns to help buy them for Ukrainian forces.

The TB2 is just one of many examples of commercial drone technology used in combat. The same DJI Mavic quadcopters that help estate agents inspect properties have been deployed in conflicts in Burkina Faso and the Donbass region of Ukraine. Other DJI drone models have been spotted in Syria since 2013, and kit-built drones, assembled from commercially available parts, have been widely used.


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