Turkey now masters the skies with devastating military drones
Turkey’s allies have been crushing their enemies on battlefields where they previously faced defeat until they were assisted by Turkish drone technology.
The leading status of Turkey in drones, which enable its armed forces to pinpoint hostile military assets and disable air-defence technology, might increase Turkey’s confidence in its dealings with Cyprus and Greece over territorial disputes in the eastern Mediterranean and Aegean.
Turkey’s latest Akinci aircraft is made by Baykar, a Turkish drone manufacturer whose chief technology officer, Selcuk Bayraktar, is President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s son-in-law.
The firm said its new drones are more advanced than its world-leading Bayraktar TB2, which has been sold to Ukraine, Qatar, Azerbaijan, Poland and other countries.
The TB2 drone, which has become the Turkish defence industry’s leading product, is being replaced by the Akinci drone
The Akinci (meaning “raider”) boasts a double engine, a 20-metre wingspan and a lift-off weight of six tonnes.
In July it set a Turkish aviation record when it flew at an altitude of 11,594 metres.
The Akinci reportedly stayed in the air for almost 26 hours during flight tests and flew 7,507km.
Aselsan, Turkey’s preeminent electronic technologies defence company which is behind the Koral equipment that can disable hostile air-defence systems, was established by Turkey’s military in 1975.
The Turkish authorities are increasingly talking about the export potential for its drone technology.
Poland has become the first European Union or Nato member state to acquire Turkish drones.
Saudi Arabia is reportedly interested in buying Turkish drones and Latvia is expected to become the second Nato member to invest. Albania is also purportedly looking to buy Bayraktar TB2s.
Dr Ali Bakir of the Ibn Khaldon Center for Humanities and Social Sciences at Qatar University wrote in the Royal United Services Institute defence publication that Turkish drone technology, and its electronic weapons system (EWS), Koral, in particular, have been the decisive factor in Turkey’s recent military victories.
Turkish drones have been used for years against the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) in southeastern Turkey, assassinating senior leaders of the separatist group.
Bakir says Koral has been the “invisible power” behind the success of Turkish drones in Syria, Azerbaijan and Libya.
Koral is a land-based, transportable EWS with a 150-200km range that has crushed Russian air-defence systems and left ground forces completely vulnerable to air strikes by Turkey’s exceedingly accurate drones.
Koral usually uses electromagnetic energy against hostile communication systems and radar systems, Bakir said.
Since 2016, Koral has been used with great impact in Syria, Libya and Azerbaijan, leaving defence ministers elsewhere scrambling to catch up with Turkey.
Last year Britain’s Defence Secretary Ben Wallace reportedly urged the UK to go in this direction, hinting that “even if half [Turkey’s] claims are true, the implications are game-changing”.
Erdogan’s populist regime has stepped up rhetoric over natural gas reserves around the divided island of Cyprus and is increasingly assertive with Greece.
It remains to be seen if Turkey’s world-leading air superiority will bolster its confidence when dealing with Athens and Nicosia.
In Idlib province, the Syrian regime and pro-Iranian militias rapidly lost aerial dominance to the Turkish air force, allowing its drones to destroy much of Bashar al-Assad’s forces. Bakir said the Damascus regime lost 151 tanks, eight helicopters, three drones, three fighter jets, around 100 armoured military vehicles, eight aerial defence systems, 86 artillery pieces and one headquarters. In the process, Koral crushed Russian-made air defences designed to counter drones.
Turkey has jeopardised its membership of Nato by ordering Russia’s S-400 air-defence systems, in a perplexing move as the equipment appears increasingly obsolete.
Video released by Turkey’s defence ministry suggests Koral managed to blind and destroy eight Russian Pantsir radar units.
Turkey more recently intervened on behalf of the enfeebled and ailing UN-recognised government in Tripoli which was being encircled by General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), which was backed by the UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, France and Russia. The arrival of Koral sparked a complete reversal of fortunes in the Libyan conflict.
Koral overcame the LNA’s Chinese-made Wing Loong drones from the UAE and handed aerial control to Turkey’s drones. Tripoli’s Turkish allies could then target Haftar’s bases, supplies, equipment and ground forces, purportedly destroying at least 15 Pantsir systems with Turkey’s prized TB2 drone.
Similar conclusions were drawn after the shattering 44-day war between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh enclave last September. Armenia’s expensive Russian-made air-defence systems failed to protect Yerevan’s ground forces from being massacred by Turkish TB2s.
Bakir says Armenia lost an estimated 256 tanks, 40 surface-to-air systems, over 400 trucks and hundreds of artillery pieces during the brief war. Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said at least six Russian-made S-300 missile systems were destroyed, mainly using Turkish drones.
Armenia bought Russia’s Iskander ballistic missile and Repellent EWS in 2016 and 2017 for tens of millions of dollars each only to find them useless during the conflict. Armenian air-defence missiles can be seen faIling to launch against aerial targets after being suppressed by Koral.
Aselsan says it is working on an advanced version of Koral, the Kara SOJ-2.
Observers will watch how Turkey’s aerial mastery will play out in the region’s conflict zones and territorial disputes in the years to come.
There were no signs Azerbaijan was capable of retaking the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh enclave before Turkish drones were deployed. Picture credit: Wikimedia