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DECEMBER 2020

Turkish Drone Diplomacy

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Turkish Drone Diplomacy

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Turkish drones have been all around the headlines in recent months.

They’ve been used in conflict zones such as Libya, against Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), in Syria, as well as mostly recently by Azerbaijan against the Armenian forces in the war for Nagorno-Karabakh.

Israel is still the world’s premiere seller of UAVs; however, Turkey is working hard to contest that position.

This is mostly done due to the fact that the drones appear easy to use, cheap to produce, and rather effective.

This doesn’t only relate to the Bayraktar TB2, even though it is currently the most exported and used Turkish drone.

A number of self-developed, designed and manufactured in Turkey unmanned systems with export potential give the country hope for future cooperation with foreign customers.

Turkish unmanned systems are unique compared to other military platforms such as helicopters and tanks, as they do not need foreign export licenses and have proven their combat capability.

It must be said that the Turkish military has used unmanned systems over the past few years in the fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Turkish Baykar Makina, a private Turkish drone manufacturer, was awarded a contract to sell a batch of 12 of its Bayraktar TB2 UAVs to Ukraine, and in 2017 the company sold a batch of six TB2s to Qatar.

In addition, Turkish Baykar Makina in 2019 launched production of a naval version of the drone.

The Bayraktar TB2 Turkish Attack UAV is a mid-altitude tactical unmanned aerial vehicle system that serves as a platform for reconnaissance missions. Each Bayraktar TB2 system consists of six aircraft, two ground control stations, three ground data terminals, two remote video terminals and ground support equipment. The drone has a maximum payload of over 55kg. The standard payload configuration includes an electro-optical camera module, an infrared camera module, a laser designator and a laser rangefinder.

And Turkish companies are hard at work in making the drone entirely indigenous.

Tusas Engine Industries, a national engine manufacturer in Turkey, completed the development phase of a program to create the country’s first unmanned aerial vehicle engine, and initial tests of the PD170 engine were successful, the author notes. It is known that the 2.1 liter PD170 turbodiesel has a capacity of 170 hp. at an altitude of 20 thousand feet and 130 hp at an altitude of 30 thousand feet, and can also operate at a maximum altitude of 40 thousand feet.

Turkish Drone Diplomacy

Click to see full-size image

In addition, armaments are also being developed for the UAVs.

Turkey’s leading defense contractor Rokestan is set to expand its mini smart ammunition (MAM) product family, used by the country’s armed combat drones and other international buyers.

The ammunition with additional features will be used in different platforms, Roketsan Chairperson Murat İkinci said.

İkinci told Anadolu Agency (AA) that Turkey’s unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) development projects have added leverage to the Turkish defense industry and that the Bayraktar TB2 drones, in particular, offered improved opportunities and abilities for the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK).

“The drones were a game-changer in field operations,” he said, reiterating that the country has been actively using several types of UAVs.

Drawing attention to the fact that serious improvements have been made in their development with the feedback and information obtained from the field, İkinci said today the MAM ammunition family is way ahead of its peers.

“It entered our agenda as ammunition that changed the course of the war and provided strike advantage,” he said, adding that they have continued their work in the field.

He said in the upcoming period, new UAVs like Bayraktar Akıncı, a cutting-edge unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) and Aksungur, a domestically produced medium-altitude, long-endurance UAV developed by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), will be used by the TSK. Both have superior capabilities compared to the current models.

Turkish media outlets also play a significant role in spreading news of the successes of the Turkish UAVs in various battlefields.

Turkey has saved the Libyan government in Tripoli from falling to a rebel army by waging a huge drone war on its behalf, Ahval News reported, citing Al Jazeera.

“Before Turkey stepped up its military intervention in Libya in December 2019, Haftar’s LNA had been gaining the upper hand in its bid to capture Tripoli, which he launched in April 2019. The arrival of Chinese-made Wing Loong drones in 2016 had made a significant difference to the LNA’s military capabilities, and these drones were being used effectively in the battle for Tripoli.”

It strongly reminds of a promotional piece to advertise a product:

“As well as launching air strikes, UAVs can provide valuable intelligence – and northern Libya’s relatively flat featureless desert terrain means that ground units are easily spotted from the air. In the event that drones are shot down, the pilot back at base can launch another drone.”

According to other reports Turkey has even surpassed the UK, by using its own technology to get ahead of London.

Located on the outskirts of Brighton in the UK, EDO MBM Technology devised and supplied a crucial missile component called the Hornet missile rack during the development stages of the Bayraktar TB2. It enabled Turkey to overcome the obstacle set forward by the US’ export ban on the killer drones.

And it all began with Turkey using its drones against the Kurdish PKK in Iraq and Syria.

Then, it used them in Idlib.

Then came Libya’s turn.

And now it’s Nagorno-Karabakh’s turn.

With a list of satisfied customers such as Libya’s Government of National Accord, Azerbaijan, various militant groups in Idlib, there’s more lining up.

Ukraine purchased Bayraktar TB2 drones, after it turned out that the West’s promises for weapon supplies and more tangible support turned out rather misleading.

Qatar has shown interest in procuring more drones.

Azerbaijan is to buy more drones to use against Armenia, and there’s likely to be more lining up.

With its extensive coverage and field testing, with ample videos proving its success, it is no surprise that the Turkish drones are selling quick.

They are cheap, reduce personnel losses in combat situations, are easily supplied since there’s ample stock and ammunition for them.

Turkish developments in the field will continue, both with improving the Bayraktar TB2, coming up with new UAVs, as well as unmanned surface vehicles, and possibly land units later on in the future.

Its sales will also likely rise, since many countries don’t have access to drones from the US and by proxy from Israel, or can’t afford Chinese drones. This and ample evidence that they are effective guarantee a potent stream of profit for future developments.

In addition, Turkey is not simply selling a UAV, it’s rather selling the chance to gain the upper hand in a local conflict, and there’s quite a few of them around the world. Turkey also appears to not be that picky in who it sells to, unlike the US and Israel, for example. After all, Turkey provides drones, training on-site with specialists, it could potentially include some militants deployed from somewhere to sweeten the deal.

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