Seth J. Frantzman is a senior correspondent and analyst at The Jerusalem Post, one of the world’s leading newspapers. He’s also a defence expert on anything related to drones in warfare. He recently published an insightful book on the subject, Drones Wars. Since the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine by Russians forces on 24 February, drones have played a role on the frontline as videos have circulated about their performance or the devastation and atrocities they permit to observe first-hand. Despite a grueling schedule, Mr. Frantzman, whose book I will review here soon, has kindly accepted to answer a few questions for me. I am sincerely grateful for that.
Here is the content of our exchange.
It does not seem the drones are playing a major role, but if they can show that Ukraine can still operate in their airspace, even when contested by Russian air defense and Russian warplanes, it will be an important accomplishment for armed drones.
Mr. Frantzman, I have watched with amazement the images of the Turkish-made drone attacking the Russian military in Ukraine. What place are the drones occupying in this conflict?
There is a lot we don’t know about how Ukraine is using the Bayraktar drones it has acquired from Turkey. Basic information about how many are still flying and where they are operating appears to be lacking from most reports. Nevertheless, there have been several videos claiming to show the UAVs targeting the Russian military. It does not seem the drones are playing a major role, but if they can show that Ukraine can still operate in their airspace, even when contested by Russian air defense and Russian warplanes, it will be an important accomplishment for armed drones.
Turkey has been developing and using some drones for many years but its move into the development and use of armed drones has taken off in the last decade.
In your book Drone Wars, which I will review here soon, you describe how drones were born out of Israeli ingenuity and how the United States became the superpower in the domain for a time. Could you tell us why and how has Turkey become a key player in that field?
Turkey has been developing and using some drones for many years but its move into the development and use of armed drones has taken off in the last decade. The Bayraktar is a symbol of this initiative and Turkey has used the drone, which is similar but smaller to a US Predator, in combat in Syria, Libya and Iraq. It has also exported it and used it for surveillance inside its own territory. The drones are being used against what Turkey says are “PKK terrorists” in Syria and Iraq. It was used in Libya to back the embattled government forces. Its export to Ukraine and other places makes Turkey a potential major drone power.
Turkey is playing catch-up, but the expansion of its drone industry shows it wants to be a global player in the export of armed drones.
Compared to countries like Israel, the United States and China, where is Turkey positioned as a “drone power” if you permit me the expression?
Israel was a pioneer of UAVs and sells drones all over the world. It also makes every category of drone, from the largest surveillance drones like Hermes and Herons to smaller loitering munitions. That means that Israel plays a huge role in drone development and use. It has several major companies playing a role globally. The US was also a major pioneer and China has rapidly captured the commercial drone market, as well as moving into military exports. This means Turkey is playing catch-up, but the expansion of its drone industry shows it wants to be a global player in the export of armed drones.
UAVs are a way to have an instant air force at a fraction of the cost.
Could you tell us more about the reasons why Ukraine is using the TB2 Bayraktar, as compared to other models?
Ukraine has difficulty importing and acquiring modern western military aircraft, such as from France or the US. UAVs are a way to have an instant air force at a fraction of the cost.
Do you know if the Ukrainian army is using other models or if this is the only one at their disposal?
Ukraine apparently has other locally produced or acquired drones.
It is not clear if the TB2 Bayraktar is a game-changer or if Ukraine will need to acquire more, in order to use it to affect.
What are the main characteristics of the TB2 Bayraktar and do you think it might be a game-changer in a battle against Russian tanks?
I think more information is needed to confirm that the TB2 is actually doing what only reports say it is accomplishing. It is not clear if it is a game-changer or if Ukraine will need to acquire more, in order to use it to affect.
Russian military won’t sit on their hands in the battle of drones. What are their capabilities, and could they be outfought there?
Russia has air defenses like the Pantsir-22 and it has helicopters and planes. However, Ukraine is a huge battlefield, it is hard to put air defenses in every location to stop UAV attacks.
Ukraine will need a lot of support to withstand a long-term offensive by Moscow.
In a broader sense, what is your assessment of the Ukrainian resistance so far and what’s your impression of President Zelensky’s leadership?
Ukraine is resisting as best it can against a multi-pronged large invasion. While Ukraine’s leadership is strong and showing it is willing to stand and fight, the country will need a lot of support to withstand a long-term offensive by Moscow.
Thank you very much for the generosity of your time.
Seth J. Frantzman’s book, Drone Wars: Pioneers, Killing Machines, Artificial Intelligence, and the Battle for the Future is published by Bombardier Books and distributed by Simon & Schuster.