Sunday, November 01, 2020

Have You Yet Spied Out The Corner Of Your Eye How Much Turkey Has Been Flexing Lately?

smallwarsjournal  |  In the Syrian conflict, drone operations will continue to represent a significant element of Turkey’s strategy for maintaining a buffer zone to retain control of Idlib and other territory along its border. Undoubtedly, Syrian forces will take various actions to mitigate the Turkish air threat to their operations. A rough outline of a counter-drone approach would likely include operations designed to attrit Turkish UAS at a steady pace, implementing tactics to reduce Syrian exposure to air attacks, and acquiring technologies which limit the effectiveness of Turkish drones.

Beyond the Syrian theater, it will be interesting to watch how Turkish drones operate and their degree of success. In an article we recently published in the Small Wars Journal, we describe how differences between operational environments greatly affects the introduction of new technologies.[xxvi] This will be undoubtedly true for the Turkish drones as they are exported to other theaters of war. Observations of the Bayraktar’s performance in Libya suggest Turkey has had trouble generating sorties and the aircraft’s impact on the battlefield is minimal. On the other hand, Tunisia may fare better with their Anka-S procurement. In Tunisia, Anka-S can operate as ISR platforms for coordinating counterterror operations against Islamist militants in the country’s northwest and law enforcement activities designed to counter illicit trafficking. There, the Anka-S may prove ideal for operating across wide open terrain where there is little risk or exposure to hostile fire.

In Ukraine, the employment of Bayraktar UCAV could be more problematic. There, the principle threat to country’s Joint Forces Operation comes from Russian-backed separatists in the Donbass Region. More so than the Syrians, the Donbass separatists in Luhansk and Donetsk have effectively demonstrated their ability, with Russian assistance, to defeat unmanned systems by using electronic warfare (EW). On many occasions, the rebels have used EW to bring down or disrupt drones being operated by the Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to the OSCE which is monitoring compliance of the Minsk II arms agreement. In the Donbass, the SMM has detected and tracked the presence of Russia’s most advanced EW systems, such as the R-330Zh Zhitel, automated jamming communication station and the Tirada-2 EW system. It is reasonable to expect these systems would be used against Ukraine’s Bayraktars in response to an increase in hostilities in the region.

When considered in total, the Turkish drone program still represents a significant technological and engineering achievement. Aside from Turkey, there is only a handful of countries capable of producing sophisticated, military UAS. What makes Turkey’s accomplishments more remarkable is the speed with which they were done. TAI only started making Ankas in 2013, while Baykar Makina just began its Bayraktar TB2 production in 2014.  The Bayraktar TB2 UCAV has been an extremely effective counterterrorism tool for Turkey and its role in Spring Shield was decisive. The lessons Turkey is learning on the battlefield in Syria will fuel further innovation and enable the country to mature an important segment of its defense industry sector.