Turkish drones could tilt the strategic balance in Ankara’s favor and tempt Erdogan to attempt military action against Greece. Erdogan may see Greek land forces and perhaps naval forces as vulnerable to the asymmetrical nature of drones (less expensive than a tank, while not exposing an operator to death). This de-stabilizing development stems from three sources: Turkey has a significant inventory of armed military drones; those drones have begun to be battle tested in places such as Libya, Northern Iraq, Syria, and Azerbaijan; Turkey has the ability to replace lost drones with an active domestic production line unhindered by a reliance on foreign technology. One report has even placed Turkish drones on the Greek border in connection with illegal border crossings. Turkey, along with China, has become the world’s leaders in the manufacture of armed drones also known as Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles (UCAVs).
Greek military strategists would be well served to take heed of the threat to long-established presumptions introduced by armed drones.
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 U.S.-developed General Atomics Gnat 750s. It later acquired Israeli-made IAIs in 2010. In 2010, relations between the U.S. 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 U.S.-made Predators and thereafter Reapers. The Guardian reports that Turkey was able to circumvent U.S. export restrictions with the assistance of a missile component developed in the United Kingdom. Around 2015, Turkey acquired the Hornet missile rack devised by EDO MBM Technology, a firm on the outskirts of Brighton. 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.
Drone strike footage provided by Azerbaijan suggests it is using Turkish TB2 Bayraktar UCAC drones. This year, these same drones have been used with success by Turkey in both Libyan and Syrian conflicts – where the Anka-S is also deployed. Whether the Turkish military is operating these drones – as some have suggested – is irrelevant to the issue that Turkey may be gaining strategic 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).
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 which 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. 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.
Turkish media celebrated the defeat of the Russian Pantsir S-1E in Libya. There are reports in April 2020 that the Libyan National Army (LNA) had shot down dozens of Turkish drones.
TURKISH DRONE MODELS
In 2004, TAI was awarded a contract to produce a medium altitude long-endurance drone. Six years later, he first flight of the 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 is capable of carrying munitions. The Anka-I is an electronic warfare and intelligence UAV. The Anka 2 is twin engine and expected to be delivered in 2020 – if has not already been delivered.
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 wing-span. 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.
Earlier 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 thirty 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 destroy 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 it can locate, track and identify targets without human aid. Reportedly, the Kargu possesses facial recognition capabilities, suggesting it can seek out specific individuals.
Kargu-2 is engineered for ‘anti-terror and asymmetric warfare scenarios,” it 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.
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.
Introduced by Turkish Aerospace Industries in 2001, Turkey’s Keklik is a radio-controlled tracking target drone.
TAI Malazgirt Mini VTOL
This TAI product is reconnaissance and surveillance UAV with a battery engine.
Bayraktar Tactical UAS
Turkey’s Bayraktar Tactical UAS was developed by the Kale-Baykar joint venture between Kale Group and Baykar Technologies. It is considered a medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) designed for surveillance and reconnaissance.
TURKEY’S DRONE INDUSTRY
Founded in 2005, Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) has 150,000 square meters under its roof (roughly 1.5 million square feet) and employs 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.
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.
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. 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.
TURKISH DRONE EXPORTS
Turkey has exported the TB2 to Azerbaijan, Qatar, the Government of National Accord in Libya and Ukraine. 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. In March 2020, Turkish Aerospace Industries signed a contract worth $ 240 million for six Anka-S and three command centers. 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 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 assemble 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.
Nicholas Kalis holds a JD and a Master’s in International Affairs.