Unmanned military technology is increasingly being introduced by various armies worldwide, whether in the air, at sea, or on the ground. Therefore, weapons such as unmanned combat vehicles and combat robots are becoming a development priority for many countries.
Along with such established global producers of unmanned military equipment as Russia, the US, and Israel, Turkey has been tasked by its President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to become one of the world’s leaders in the production of combat robots. Turkey aims to eliminate its dependence on imported defense products and become a leader in unmanned technology. Ismail Demir, the head of Turkey’s Presidency of Defense Industries, said this speaking at the Erciyes University in Kayseri on October 10.
In recent years, Turkey’s emphasis has been on developing and producing various unmanned military equipment. Turkish combat drones have a “bright future,” writes Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten. They have already performed well in Libya, Syria, and Nagorno-Karabakh, fundamentally changing the course of military action. A new generation of systems capable of carrying heavy weapons and detecting submarines is on its way. Besides, any drone is cheaper than an attack aircraft, for which a pilot has to be trained as well. Recent military events in Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh show that the tactics of aviation application have changed today; it is possible to achieve the same goals of supporting your troops on the battlefield, but at a significantly lower cost and without losing flight personnel.
Now Turkey intends to develop cooperation with Ukraine in this area. One of the notable events of October was the news about the first experience of combat use of the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 unmanned combat aerial vehicle by the Ukrainian Armed Forces. The first contract with Turkey for the supply of Bayraktar TB2 UCAVs worth $74 million was signed back in 2018. Under its terms, Ukraine already received six UCAVs, two control stations, and 208 guided missiles MAM-L and MAM-C the following year. A second contract was awarded in 2020, including six UAVs and three upgraded control stations (which increased the range to 300 km). It was executed ahead of schedule in the summer of 2021, and the recipient of the Turkish vehicles was the Ukrainian Navy. The Ukrainian UCAV bases (Starokonstantinov in Khmelnytsky and Kulbakino in the Mykolaiv region) are deep in the rear, the actions of special purpose units of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’S Republics (DPR and LPR), and the means of fire against them seem to be unlikely. Turkey’s expanding UCAV supply contracts aggravate the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine. Along with the announced plans to purchase four more UCAVs directly from Turkey in addition to the existing twelve, in the near future, Ukraine plans to create Turkish UCAV maintenance, an upgrade, and repair center, as well as a training facility for training of engineering and technical personnel and operators. According to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, the next stage envisages the development of joint UCAV production in the Ukrainian territory with Turkish investments. The latter is presented, among other things, as a step in the interests of Ankara, which “lacks its own capacity to fulfill all available orders for Bayraktar UCAVs. On November 11, during the SAHA Expo in Istanbul, the Ukrainian state-owned company Ivchenko-Progress and the Turkish company Baykar Makina signed an agreement on supplies of Ukrainian-made engines for Turkish drones.
Pakistan’s National Engineering & Scientific Commission signed an agreement with Turkey’s major aerospace manufacturer, Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), at SAHA Expo 2021, Defense and Aerospace Exhibition, to co-produce components for the Anka medium altitude long endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The Anka UAV can stay in the air for 24 hours and carry up to 250 kg of weapons, such as lightweight air-to-ground missiles. The Anka UAV is currently used by the Turkish Armed Forces, the Gendarmerie General Command, and the Turkish National Intelligence Organization.
According to Turkish media, the UAVs have already been exported to 13 countries. In particular, military drones ranging from several dozen to single units have already been delivered to Poland, Azerbaijan, Qatar, Ukraine, Turkmenistan, Morocco, Tunisia, and Saudi Arabia. Iraq, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Ethiopia, Oman, Nigeria, Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, and Serbia are also considering or have already signed contracts. Turkish UAVs have come to the attention of the British thanks to a defense industry information platform called Drone Wars, which noted that Turkey had shattered the US and Israeli monopoly in the industry. As a result, Turkish Minister of Industry and Technology, Mustafa Varank said in an interview for CNN in mid-October that the United Kingdom is also considering the purchase of Turkish Bayraktar and Anka UAVs.
A definite plus of Turkish UAVs is their low cost, hovering between one and two million dollars per unit, as a result of which Turkey’s arms sales in the first three quarters of 2021 have already amounted to $2.1 billion through the export of aerial products, compared to $1.5 billion in the same period in 2020.
Because Turkey has come under US sanctions for its purchase of Russian S-400 SAMs, it will likely not be able to upgrade its American-made F-16s in the near future. Under these circumstances, the Turkish Air Force intends to augment its Akinci drones to engage in long-range missions. The Bayraktar Akinci UCAV has a 20-meter wingspan and can carry a payload of 1,350 kg, of which 450 kilograms can be stored inside the fuselage. The Bayraktar Akinci is comparable in size to the American MQ-9 Reaper reconnaissance and attack UAV but exceeds the American vehicle in terms of maximum takeoff weight. The Bayraktar Akinci Armament includes Mk-81, Mk-82, and Mk-83 free-fall aerial bombs, including their conversion into JDAM precision munitions. MAM-L and MAM-C guided bombs are the primary weapons for the Bayraktar TV2 UCAV, 70-mm laser-guided CIRIT missiles developed by ROKETSAN, air-launched L-UMTAS anti-tank guided missiles with a launch range of 8 km. The Bayraktar Akinci is also equipped with guided air-to-air missiles. The drone can remain continuously in the air for up to a day, and its maximum flight altitude is 12 kilometers. It is equipped with two AI-450T turboshaft twin-rotor engines designed by Ukraine’s Zaporozhye Machine Building Design Bureau Progress State Enterprise named after Academician A.G. Ivchenko in 1988.
In addition, the Turkish Armed Forces will receive a military version of the unmanned mini chopper Alpin developed by Titra Technology, which can be used for surveillance and carry weapons.
According to a report by Ismail Demir, he head of the Turkish Defense Industries Presidency (SSB), Turkey has completed the first phase of training tactics for the combat use of unmanned boats. This feature includes the ability to attack in swarms. The corresponding contract for the development of unmanned maritime strike drones was signed earlier by the Turkish Defense Industry Authority and the local weapons company ASELSAN. The project aims to develop swarm-operating unmanned boats capable of performing various tasks. The Albatros unmanned surface target boat series recently been extended with the Albatros-S next-generation model with superior maneuverability, seaworthiness, and stability. A flotilla of sea drone boats about 7 meters long can reach speeds of more than 40 knots (74 km/h), with a cruising range of more than 200 nautical miles (370 km). Combat vehicles have a significant payload capacity.
Vladimir Platov, expert on the Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.