Turkey’s Use of UCAVs Over Syria Detailed

 - May 1, 2018, 6:42 AM
The Bayraktar TB2 UAV can drop weapons as well as perform ISR missions. (Photo: Ba

The Turkish armed forces (Türk Silahlı Kuvvetleri, TSK) used Bayraktar series UAVs for reconnaissance and fire support during their recent operations against Kurdish YPG resistance groups in northern Syria. Their use was highlighted during the Eurasia Airshow 2018, held from April 24 to 29 in Antalya, Turkey, on the Mediterranean Sea coast. The event showcased Turkey’s homegrown combat systems, which were the key to the recent victories in Syria, according to prime minister Binali Yıldırım.

Development of the Bayraktar series was carried out by Kale Baykar, a joint venture of Baykar Makina and the Kale Group. Work on the initial Block A commenced in 2007, and a prototype made its first flight in 2009. The Turkish government awarded the manufacturer a two-phase development and production contract in December 2011. The second phase called for a notably larger airframe, capable of carrying a larger set of mission equipment and 330 pounds of air-launched munitions. As a result, the gross weight rose from 450 to 650 kg (990 to 1,450 lb], and the wingspan from nine to 12 meters [30 ft to 40 ft].

The Bayraktar Tactical Block (BTB2) flew for the first time in April 2014. It features an inverse V-tail empennage and a blended fuselage-to-wing attachment. A single piston engine driving a pusher propeller is positioned between the tailbooms. Most of the airframe parts are made of carbon fiber, Kevlar, and hybrid composites. The maximum ceiling is 27,000 feet, and endurance is 24 hours. The BTB2’s standard payload includes a forward-looking infrared and an electro-optical camera, a laser range finder and a laser target designator. The UAV is datalinked to control stations.

The BTB2 is described as “one of the world's most advanced UAV systems in its class with its flight automation and performance.” It became operational in 2015, and since then has logged more than 42,000 flight hours. Today, it is the only locally developed UCAV in the Turkish inventory, but the Anka-T armed version of TAI’s better-known MALE UAV is expected to join in shortly.

Baykar's research and development team provided support to the TSK during the recent hostilities in Syria and carried out “many software and electronic updating processes” to ensure smooth UAV operations. According to official sources, the BTB2 drones carried out 382 sorties lasting 4,916 flight hours and dropped weapons on 49 occasions. On another 680 occasions, they found and designated targets for ensuing kinetic action by Turkey’s T129 ATAK helicopters, F-4 and F-16 tactical fighters as well as artillery.

One Bayraktar was downed by the Pantsyr S1 antiaircraft system over the Russian naval base in the Syrian port of Tartus on May 11, 2017, and another on Feb. 2, 2018 by U.S.-supported, Kurd-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

According to the Turkish media, TSK has so far taken delivery of 34 BTB2s including a batch of eight just before the hostilities in northern Syria subsided. In addition to TSK, six such drones are in service with the police and six more with the Gendarmerie. Out of the total 46 BTB2s, 23 have been configured to carry air-launched munitions such as the 50-pound smart micro munition made by Roketsan and designated MAM-L. The latter had its combat debut during Operation Olive Branch. On a typical strike mission, the BTB2 carried four such laser-guided bombs, which may come with an armor-piercing warhead, a thermobaric or a high-explosive/splinter charge. Other Turkish guided weapons specially designed for UCAVs are MAM-C with a reduced caliber and OMTAS anti-tank missile with more than eight kilometers' firing range.

In a recent speech, Prime Minister Yıldırım said that Turkey will further pursue self-sufficiency in weaponry to preserve its freedom to act independently. He said that the country’s defense industry now has a business volume of $60 billion and will be working on more than 600 projects in the coming decade. He encouraged the private sector to become involved in national defense projects. “We cannot do this only with the publicly owned companies in the defense industry,” he said.