In a development that has geopolitical ramifications, a crashed drone in the Belgorod region of Russia indicates its dubious origin. A drone assembled in Pakistan in collaboration with Turkey has found its way to Ukraine, where it has been laden with explosives and flown into Russia.
The development comes against the backdrop of Turkey drone maker Baykar beginning the construction of its factory in Ukraine and Pakistan reportedly entering an arms deal with two private US companies in 2023 to supply ammunition to Ukraine amid the Russia war.
The secret Pakistani arms sales to the US were done instead of Washington facilitating a controversial bailout from the International Monetary Fund for cash-strapped Pakistan. The arms sales were meant to supply the Ukrainian military — marking Pakistani involvement in a conflict it has been claiming to be neutral.
The linkages have been found by OSINT military researchers after images emerged of a drone crashed in the Belgorod region. This model of drone crashed earlier as well, but this drone remained largely intact after the crash. One of the crash sites showed a lot of detail, including a C3-6 explosive.
1. It would be easy to overlook this single photo of a mysterious #Ukrainian #drone that was shown on a Russian Telegram channel. This drone crashed in the Belgorod region and there are a number of interesting details.https://t.co/riIeu4qhwA pic.twitter.com/eQLShlCVtU
— DanielR (@DanielR33187703) February 9, 2024
Danier R, a physicist, unraveled the “mysterious” drone on social media X. “These drones use the Chinese-made DLE 170 engine. The engine here has dark oil on the exhaust manifold, which suggests a possible engine failure. The fuselage is expensively made from carbon fiber and has fancy aluminum parts,” Daniel elaborates in a thread.
“The electronics are curious. Automotive-style fuses are used with 23 circuits (23 seems a lot for a small drone). There are also at least six different types of electrical connectors, including BNC, SMA, DB9, and DB25,” he adds.
What makes the drone mysterious is that the same model is in service with the Pakistan Air Force and has been put on display in Pakistan’s National Aerospace Science and Technology Park (NASTP).
However, it is hard to discern the crashed drones’ origins accurately as “there are no obvious indications of the aircraft manufacturer or model on the drones.”
Turkish Aerospace Giant Baykar signed a contract with NASTP in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, in August 2023. Baykar Technologies, operating within NASTP, will conduct R&D activities and work to foster mutual innovation and high-technology development capabilities.
These drones were also displayed along with the Winged Loitering Munition “KaGeM V3” developed by the NASTP that shows a Baykar logo. Also displayed were a Baykar Akinci, the Baykar corporate logo, and the flag of Turkey.
The Ukraine-Russia war has made for strange bed-fellows. Turkey has invited the US ire by choosing the Russian S-400 but is now constructing a drone-making factory in Ukraine.
Daniel pointed out another interesting detail – it has the large letter “B” painted on the tail. “These markings have appeared only recently on Ukrainian drones. There are similar markings on a drone that crashed into the Slavneft-YANOS oil refinery located deep in Russia,” he said while adding: “Was the mystery drone also intended for a similar target? If so, the drone may have needed a better battery.”
The Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 is the primary military drone used by Ukraine. It is about the size of a small plane and can carry laser-guided bombs and cameras.
In April 2022, an attack in the Black Sea resulted in the sinking of the Russian cruiser Moskva, thanks to the use of a Bayraktar drone. Russia also uses the simpler, smaller Orlan-10, equipped with cameras and a modest bomb capacity.
Ukraine has also been deploying smaller, more affordable commercial drone versions like the DJI Mavic 3, which retails for approximately £1,700. These can be fitted with small bombs but are mainly used to spot enemy troops and to direct attacks.
FPV drones are operated manually and do not rely on GPS satellite navigation, which reduces their vulnerability to electronic warfare tactics.
As reported by the EurAsian Times, Russia has claimed to have developed a ‘magic radio’ for FPV (First Person View) drones that will make them highly resistant to jamming in the latest technological development for drones.
Maritime drones – both surface and underwater drones have also been deployed by Ukraine. Since 2023, these drones have been used in the attack on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol. More recently, Ukrainian forces damaged a Russian amphibious landing ship and struck a Russian fuel tanker using naval drones.
Russia has also been seeking convoluted routes to circumvent Chinese restrictions on the export of drones and their components, causing supply chain disruptions and shortages in Russia.
The China-based company Shandong Buyun Aviation Technology Co., Ltd plans to deliver 1,000 drones to Russia. These drones will be following a convoluted route to evade global sanctions.
The disassembled drones will be delivered first to Kazakhstan (via Urumqi, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous District, PRC), each in a separate case, and then shipped to Russia.
- Ritu Sharma has been a journalist for over a decade, writing on defense, foreign affairs, and nuclear technology.
- She can be reached at ritu.sharma (at) mail.com
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