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Turkish drones could tilt today’s precarious strategic balance in Ankara’s favor and tempt Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to attempt military action against Greece. [1] One report has even placed Turkish drones on the Greek border in connection with illegal border crossings. As Greek F-16 fighters intercepted a Turkish drone over Rhodes as early as 2018, this should come as no surprise to Athens. Erdogan may see Greek land forces – with such main battle tanks as the Leopard 2A6, 2A4, and 1A5 – and perhaps naval forces as vulnerable to the asymmetrical nature of drones (less expensive than a tank, while not exposing an operator to death). Erdogan is also sure to consider that his son-in-law is a leader in the Turkish drone industry.

This de-stabilizing development has three sources: Turkey’s significant inventory of armed military drones; those drones have begun to be battle tested in places such as Libya, Northern Iraq, Syria, and Azerbaijan; and Turkey’s ability to replace lost drones with an active domestic production line unhindered by a reliance on foreign technology. Turkey, along with China, have become the world’s leaders in the manufacture of armed drones also known as Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles (UCAVs). Another report from Emmanuel Peuchot has Azerbaijani drones destroying Karabakh artillery in October 2020.

Challenges

Every battle is won or lost before it is ever fought – Sun Tzu (544 BC? – 496 BC?)

War strategists often find technological change hard to accept; but accept it they must and quickly. Sun Tzu’s admonition is as relevant to Greek strategists today as it was some two and one half thousand years ago. In 1925, the United States court marshalled Colonel William “Billy” Mitchell, the officer who argued planes were the wave of the future with their ability to defeat the battleship.

It is very easy for ignorant people to think that success in war may be gained by the use of some wonderful invention rather than by hard fighting and superior leadership. – General George S. Patton, US Army.

Will armed Turkish drones doom Greece? Not if George Patton’s admonition is to be trusted. But if Greece is to be judged as having superior leadership, it must develop both doctrine, tactics, and invention to counter the threat of Turkish drones. As a David facing a Goliath, Greece will also need a force multiplier. In the Battle of Britain, an outnumbered and outgunned Britain defeated Germany’s Luftwaffe by means of a force multiplier. That force multiplier was confidence and grit inspired by the eloquence and inspiration of Winston Churchill. What will Athens’ force multiplier be? Perhaps it will be strong alliances such as that developing with Macron’s France or perhaps it will be a strategy to negate the advantage that drones confer on Ankara.

Heightening this threat, Daily Sabah reported on October 18, 2020 that Turkish defense contractor Rokestan is about to expand its line of mini smart ammunition (MAM) used by combat drones. The MAM family consists of Rokestan’s MAM-L and the MAM-C. The MAM-L is a thermobaric weapon which uses oxygen from surrounding air to create a high-temperature explosion. Rokestan’s MAC-C is a high explosive variant. Rokestan claims its munitions can engage both stationary and moving targets with high precision.

One bright spot in the developing saga of Turkish drones is that according to an October 13 report by Burak Ege Bekdil in DefenseNews, Canada was suspending exports to Turkey of critical drone parts. On October 5th, 2020, Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne announced that it would suspend export permits of drone technology to Turkey. At issue are exports by L3Harris WESCAM (Burlington, Ontario) of high-tech sensors and targeting technology (electro-optical/infra-red (EO/IR). L3Harris WESCAM is a subsidiary of US defense giant L3Harris. Ismail Demir, Turkey’s top procurement official claims that would soon start mass production of the CATS electro-optical system as its replacement. CATS would be produced by Turkey’s Aselsan. The big question mark for Athens is, how accurate are Turkish claims that it can substitute indigenously developed technology for imported technology should outside suppliers cut off Ankara as its international behavior continues on its aggressive trajectory.

Technological Change in Warfare

Since the Battle of Megiddo (1457 BC), the history of warfare has been one of technological change upending expectations. Greek military strategists would be well served to take heed of the threat to long-established presumptions introduced by armed drones and not place over-reliance on advice dispensed by General George S. Patton Jr. “Wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men.” Turkish drones can be defeated – but Greece must have a strategy – a Greek word – to do so.

History is replete with stories of defeat where technological change was ignored.[2] Witness, Hitler’s forces failed to win the Battle of Britain because they ignored targeting British radar installations. In the decade before the US entry into WWII, many American generals rejected mechanized warfare in favor of the mounted horse cavalry. After all, they argued, mechanized vehicles, require fuel, lubrication, and clean water and have trouble overcoming some obstacles. The horse need only graze on plentiful grass and streams to keep going.[3]

History of Drones

Few, if any, victories are traceable to weapons – General George S. Patton, US Army

The Effect of Weapons on War 1930

While not a very well-known quote of Patton’s, it bears considering. Patton derives his maxim from studying warfare over the centuries. More towards the present he points out that in 1866 Prussia defeated a less well armed foe – the Austrians four years later did the same against the better armed French.

As early as 1911, Elmer A. Sperry (founder of Sperry Gyroscope Company) took an interest in the remote control of aircraft. The immediate precursor of combat UAVs came in 1971 when the US Navy developed MASTACS (Maneuverability Augmentation System for Tactical Air Combat Simulation) and applied that technology to existing practice target drones (BQM-34A) This was followed by the first flight of the MCQ-1 Predator manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical took place in 1994. Originally meant as an un-armed vehicle, it was soon armed. By 2001, the US Air Force and the CIA were using the RQ-1 Predator as their primary vehicle for offensive operations.

Perhaps the impetus for developing drones came from Turkey’s ongoing fight against its Kurdish fellow citizens. Turkey was not always a dominant manufacturer of combat drones; in 1995, Turkey purchased US General Atomics Gnat 750s. It later acquired Israeli-made IAIs in 2010. In 2010, matters between the US and Turkey took a turn for the worse as a result of an Israeli raid on an aid flotilla that left nine Turks dead. Under congressional opposition, Turkey was unable to acquire US-made Predators and thereafter Reapers. The Guardian reports that Turkey was able to circumvent US export restrictions with the assistance of a missile component developed in the United Kingdom.[4]

Erdogan signing a drone drones
Erdogan signing a drone that was later destroyed in Syria.

Around 2015, Turkey acquired the Hornet missile rack devised by EDO MBM Technology, a firm on the outskirts of Brighton, UK. A Turkish spokesman denied this published allegation. That same year, Turkey’s achieved its first armed UAV flight when aTB2 successfully test fired a rocket from 16,000 feet which hit its target.

While Pakistan was the first nation to conduct a drone strike on its own soil, Turkey soon followed in 2016 with 72 Kurdish militants killed in the first two months of operations. One report puts the death toll of Kurdish militants at 400.

Today only six nations produce UCAVs: the US, China, Israel, Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey.

Current Battlefields

Azerbaijan

Drone strike footage provided by Azerbaijan suggests it is using Turkish TB2 Bayraktar UAV drones. This year, these same drones have been used with success by Turkey in both Libyan and Syrian – where the Anka-S is also deployed – conflicts. Whether the Turkish military is operating these drones – as some have suggested – is irrelevant to the issue that Turkey may be gaining strategy superiority over Greek land forces. The National Interest reported earlier in 2020 that the Turkish military operates about 130 armed drones of several types (the Anka, Karayel and Bayraktar TB2).

Syria

Not only can drones deliver munition but they can call in artillery strikes that in the past were called in by slow flying observation planes who were vulnerable to attack. Turkey has made good use of drones for such purposes in Syria. Though, drones are not invulnerable as Syrian air defenses have shot down numerous Turkish drones – yet a downed drone comes at a lower cost in monies and human life than the downing of a conventional military aircraft.

One analyst has labeled Turkish drones as a “game changer” in Idlib.[5] Drones don’t just threaten vehicles, AFP reported on March 1, 2020 that Turkish drones killed nineteen government soldiers in Syria. Turkey claims to have used drones to kill 2,500 pro-regime fighters in Syria. The FDD Long War Report claims that Turkish TB2 and Anka-S destroyed Syrian units including a Russian Pantsir air defense system. Another report argued that Turkish drones in Libya, acting on behalf of the Government of National Accord defeated ten of Haftar’s Pantsir S-1E (SA-22 Greyhound) air defense systems in less than a week.

Libya

Turkish media celebrated the destruction of the Russian Pantsir S-1E in Libya in 2020. There are reports in April 2020 that the Libyan National Army (LNA) had shot down dozens of Turkish drones.

Turkish Drone Models

Armed

Alpagu®

A fixed-wing autonomous tactical attack UAV designed for striking targets outside the line of sight with high accuracy” built by ASM. It claims an operational range of five km and mission endurance of 10 minutes. It claims a cruise speed of 50 knots with a maximum speed of 65 knots. ASM claims it is deployable and operable by a single soldier.

Anka

In 2004, TAI was awarded a contract to produce a medium altitude long-endurance drone. Six years later, the first flight of Turkey’s Anka resulted in a crash within 15 minutes. The Anka-A is a medium altitude long endurance (MALE) UAV. The Anka-B is an improved version of the Anka-A. The Anka-S is a serial production version of the Anka which is satellite-enabled and can carry munitions. In March 2020, Turkish Aerospace Industries signed a contract worth $ 240 million for six Anka-S and three command centers for delivery to the Turkish Undersecretariat for Defence Industry (SSM).

TAI’s Anka-I is an electronic warfare and intelligence UAV equipped with ELINT and COMINT systems. TAI’s customer for their Anka-I is the Nation Intelligence Organization (MIT), Turkey’s state intelligence agency established in 1965 to replace the National Security Service

The Anka 2 is twin engine and expected to be delivered in 2020 – if has not already been delivered.

TB2

Turkey’s TB2 is a medium altitude long-endurance tactical UAV built by Kale-Baykar joint venture. Reports in June indicate Turkey operates 75 of these drones each 21 feet in length with a 39-foot wingspan. Entering service in 2014, they have been used against Kurds in Turkey. Turkey’s TB2 is reported to carry 4 MAM-L and MAC-C missiles manufactured by Roketsan. Its combat range is 6000 km with a speed of 220km/hour.

Kargu-2

In June 2020, reports from Turkish news agency Andolu indicate the Turkish military was to receive 500 swarming kamikaze drones. The Kargu-2, produced by Turkish company Savunma Tecknolojileri Muhendislik ve Ticaret (STM) – headquartered in Ankara –  is a 15-pound multi-copter whose top speed of 90 mph provides endurance of 30 minutes. Under direct operator control from up to six miles away after it spots a target the drone locks on, dives in, and uses an explosive charge to destroying it. Though the Kargu-2 has a larger warhead, it is similar to the Switchblade loitering munition American Special Forces use. Unlike Switchblade, which is one use only, Kargu-2 will return safely to its operator for re-use if no target is found.

This drone features daylight camera, Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR), and infra-red imaging. Highly autonomous, under direct control it is, able to fly a route and using algorithms locate, track, and identify targets without human aid. Reportedly, the Kargu possesses facial recognition capabilities, suggesting it can seek out specific individuals.

Engineered for anti-terror and asymmetric warfare scenarios, Kargu-2 comes in three varieties: Kargu-2’s three-pound warhead is produced in an explosive/fragmentation version for personnel and light vehicles; a thermobaric version is designed to destroy buildings and bunkers. A shaped charge version targets heavy armor.

Un-Armed

TAI Aksungur

Using Anka technology, TAI is developing the Aksungar unmanned aerial vehicle (UACV) for the Turkish armed forces. At 39 feet in length, the Aksungur, Turkish for gyrfalcon is TAI’s largest drone. It is powered by two dual-turbocharged diesel engines produced by Tusas Engine Industries (TEI). Proposed armaments are the TEBER-81 laser guided bomb, the TEBER-82 laser guided bomb, LUMTA, MAM-L, MAC-C, and the KGK .

TAI Turna

Turkey’s Turna is a radio-controlled target drone. In 2001, the Turna was introduced by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI). Its engine is manufactured by Tusas Engine Industries (TEI) and is in use by Turkey’s armed forces.

TAI Keklik

Introduced by Turkish Aerospace Industries in 2001, Turkey’s Keklik is a radio-controlled tracking target drone used by the Turkish Armed Forces for target tracking in gunnery exercises. The Turkish Ministry of National Defence awarded TAI the contract for its development in 1995. With a prototype completed in 1997, production commenced in late 1999.

TAI Malazgirt Mini VTOL

This TAI product is reconnaissance and surveillance UAV with a battery engine. Its name honors the Battle of Manzikert where the Byzantine army was defeated in 1071 and which led to the gradual Turkification of Anatolia. According to its manufacturer’s catalog, 200 unites have been deployed in the field since 2007. In appearance, it looks like a mini helicopter with a rotor span of 1.8 meters. Its takeoff weight is 12 kg and its claimed endurance is 90 minutes.

Bayraktar Tactical UAS

Turkey’s Bayraktar Tactical UAS was developed by the Kale-Baykar joint venture between Kale Group and Baykar Technologies for the Turkish Armed Forces. It is considered a medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) designed for surveillance and reconnaissance. In 2014, it set an endurance record when it flew 24 hours and 34 minutes. In 2015, it demonstrated 100 accuracy in the firing of Roketsan MAM-L smart micro munition. It has a 12-meter wingspan and is powered by an internal combustion engine.

While development of the Bayraktar Tactical UAS was launched in 2007 by the Turkish Defense Undersecretariat (SSM), it was not until December 2015 that the missiles system of the TB2 was successfully tested. By September 2018, the TB2 had completed 60,000 flight hours. In August 2018 Turkish Land Forces, using a TB2, successfully executed senior PKK leader Ismail Ozden in northwestern Iraq.

Togan

A multirotor reconnaissance UAS manufactured by STM with a range of five km and 50 minutes flight endurance. It boasts a maximum speed o of 72 km/hour. It is powered by a Li-ion battery.

Turkey’s Drone Industry

Aselsan

Established in 1975, Aselsan is Turkey’s largest defense electronic company. The Turkish Armed Forces Foundation owns some 75 percent of its stock; the balance is traded on the Borsa stock market. Its facilities are at Macunkoy, Akyrt, Golbasi, and Teknokent. It claims capabilities in communication and information technologies, radar and electronic warfare, electro-optics, avionics, unmanned systems, land, naval, and weapon systems, air defense and missile systems, command and control systems, transportation, security, traffic, automation and medical systems.

TAI

Founded in 2005, Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) has 150,000 square meters under roof (roughly 1.5 million square feet) and employees 1,500 engineers.

Tusas Engine Industries

Located in Eskisehhir Turkey, this defense contractor was founded in 1985 as a joint venture between Turkish Aerospace Industries and GE Aviation. Its manufacturing center is located in Eskisehir, Turkey. TUSAS MOTOR SANAYII A.S. (its Turkish name) got its start manufacturing components for the General Electric F110 engine powering F-16s.

Kale Group

Founded in 1957, Turkey’s Kale Group entered the defense and aerospace arena in 1987. In June 2020 it was reported that the Kale-Baykar joint venture would sell drones to Azerbaijan.

Baykar

Founded in 1984, Baykar began research on unmanned aerial vehicles in 2000. Its web site, boasting of 1,100 employees, details that to date Baykar has delivered 400 unmanned aerial vehicles. Baykar describes it business as consisting of unmanned aerial vehicle systems, C4I, avionics/subsystems, simulators, payload systems and training, and Wescam authorized service center. The Baykar website boasts of a future developing unmanned fighters, central command and control, artificial intelligence, and, remarkably, a flying car.

Al-Monitor reports that Baykar is a family business of Erdogan’s son-in-law Selcuk Bayrakar, who married the younger of Erdogan’s two daughters. Born in 1979 in Istanbul’s Sariyer district, Selcuk immodestly calls himself the “chief architect of Turkey’s first indigenous, operational UAV systems.” Bayrakar reportedly received his Master’s degree in 2004 from the University of Pennsylvania.

Savunma Tecknolojileri Muhendislik ve Ticaret (STM)

Established in 1991, STM was founded to provide project management and a whole slew of services to the Presidency of the Republic of Turkey, Presidency of Defence Industries, and the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). Affiliates include STG, TRtest, ASBU, teknopark Istanbul, and Roketsan. Their drone products include the Togan, the Kargu, and the Alpagu.

Turkish Drone Exports

Turkey has exported its TB2 to Azerbaijan, Qatar, the Government of National Accord in Libya and Ukraine. In 2018, Bayraktar agreed to sell Qatar six drones for Qatari forces. TAI had been in talks for export of its Anka with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. A deal for selling the Anka to Egypt fell apart. By way of comparison, the first Greek-made drone, the Ouranos, only took to the skies in 2019 and is not even armed and is certainly not making a splash in the export market.

In 2020, Ahwal News reports Turkey would sell 48 drones to the Ukraine. This report counts twelve Bayraktar control stations and some 36 to 48 UAVs as constituting the package. A report in 2019 put the value of this sale at $69 million. One report states Ukraine hopes to assembly these drones domestically using presumably Turkish parts and assistance.

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists reports Turkey also seeks to export the TB2 to Indonesia and Tunisia. Another report identifies Serbia as looking to purchase Turkish drones.

By Nicholas Kalis, JD, Masters in International Affairs.

The views of the author do not necessarily reflect those of Greek City Times.

[1] The history of warfare is replete with one dominant technology being overcome by a newer technology. Witness the airplane making the battleship obsolete and ushering in the age of the aircraft carrier.

[2] In Afghanistan, the vaunted Soviet helicopter was vanquished by single men shouldering Stinger missiles.

[3] The last major cavalry charge took place on August 23 1942 as the Italians hurled themselves against the Soviet line on the Eastern Front. Quite a long history of cavalry charges when their end was visible many years earlier.

[4] “Revealed: How UK Technology fueled Turkey’s rise to global drone power” Dan Sabbagh and Bethan McKernan

[5] Mariya Petkova 2 March 2020 “Turkish drones – a ‘game changer’ in Idlib Aljazeera

Guest Blogger

This piece was written for GCT by a guest blogger.

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