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There is no exaggeration in classifying Turkey that it is currently a major power in the world of drones, and that some experts regard it as the third power after the United States and Israel at the level of proficiency in operating drones in military operations with accurate synchronization, whether armed or for surveillance, monitoring and intelligence. Evidence greater than what Ankara’s planes did in the skies of Idlib and in northern Syria in general, in addition to the recent scenes in the skies of Libya by destroying the Russian "Pantsir S1" system.

These drones, their influence emerged in late February of this year 2020, when the Turkish army targeted a meeting of senior leaders in the Syrian regime and others from Hezbollah, killing 10 of the meeting attendees and wounding twenty others, and the monitoring and targeting by the air force came now to the Turkish "Drones", Meanwhile, these drones also bombed dozens of Assad regime militia sites in the countryside of Aleppo and Idlib, with simultaneous Turkish artillery bombardment.

In the last period, Ankara faced the dilemma of blocking the airspace, a dilemma that comes from Russia providing its ally "the Assad regime" with comprehensive air defense systems, whether the S-300 system for tracking and destroying remote and high targets, "jets and some high-altitude missiles", or the "Pantsir S" systems. 1 ″ and "Pak-M2" for medium and short-range targets, and the problem of the Turkish drones came specifically from the Russian "Panter S1" system designed to confront them, but the Turkish bombing succeeded in destroying a number of important sites for those batteries, and then it contributed greatly to opening The airspace in front of the drones to replace the jet fighters, which still cannot enter the battle without endangering the lives of the Turkish pilots.

It can be said that the same situation existed in the Libyan sky, in which Haftar’s forces and his allies temporarily overtook the equation, before the Turkish Drones turned the equation through what many saw in the past few days of the destruction of the "Pantsir S1" system and the accompanying military advance of the Al-Wefaq government forces in Tripoli. After its control of Al-Wattayah Air Base, one of the strategic locations in Haftar's project to overthrow legitimacy in Libya.

What is the story of the development of the Turkish drones and how did they restore their prestige to the Turks in the global arms market?

On August 15, 2018, Ismail Ozden, the prominent Turkish leader in the PKK responsible for the party’s operations in Sinjar, northern Iraq, was attending a memorial ceremony near the village of Kocho, 15 kilometers south of Sinjar, while he was Ozen leaves the memorial ceremony. The Turkish intelligence succeeded in monitoring his location by monitoring the phones of his assistants that work via satellite, and finally managed to determine his exact location inside a white truck in a convoy of the Labor Party traveling on one of the highways in the area.

With Ozden, or "Zaki Shankali" as his supporters like to call him, one of the most wanted people on the Turkish authorities' red lists, what happened after his location was not surprising, as a Turkish-made "Bayraktar TB2" drone took over a surveillance mission. The "Ozden" convoy followed it before a laser-guided bomb was fired at his pickup truck. The Turkish drone watched the Kurdish leader's colleagues as they transferred him to another red car, and while the second car was making its way towards a fortified PKK base, the plane fired its next strike and instantly killed Ozden and ten Other people accompanied him.

Over the following days, the extraordinary visual recording issued by the Turkish authorities themselves grabbed the headlines in the country with clear public praise for what happened, and the pride of the Turks that cannot be ignored by the progress made by their country in the field of drones, which provided an invaluable opportunity. For the people to practice the epic rituals of national pride with a flavor that was not without modernity, and this came as a result of the spread of (1) a number of computer games related to the Turkish Drones to meet wide popularity among Turkish youth, including a game in which the participant simulated drone sorties over the Kurdish city of Afrin, Unlike another game launched by the Turkish Aerospace Industries Company called "Operation Anka", relative to the drone produced by the company with the same name, during which the player practices various scenarios for the "war on terror" and organizes drone missions, whether for reconnaissance or providing support to the ground forces.

The new drones in Turkey, then, go beyond the point of being a mere military weapon or even a political issue, to turn, paradoxically, into a burning torch of national popular enthusiasm, a trend that the Turkish government seems to have adopted since the middle of the last decade, specifically from the moment when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan decided that He makes the development of the national defense industry one of his main priorities and enacts constitutional reforms for this purpose that were approved during the referendum on the Turkish constitution in April 2016, according to which the authority to oversee the defense industry and defense procurement was granted to the presidency, thus completing the legal framework for the "Erdogan" project to produce weapons. Homemade.

However, Turkey's ambitions to produce weapons domestically precede this moment, since the seventies of the last century, Turkish officials have had great doubts about the negative effects of relying on American and Western weapons, a feeling that has been clearly reinforced in recent years after these countries rejected many Turkish requests to obtain Advanced weapons, as happened in 2014 when the US Congress refused to transfer two Oliver Hazard Berry frigates to Turkey due to Ankara’s “hostile” position towards Israel, and most importantly, the long-standing ban imposed by Washington on the export of drones to many countries and in Turkey also came to the fore.

Drones are considered an effective weapon at the strategic and operational level, in addition to being inexpensive compared to conventional weapons, foremost among which are jet aircraft.

Until 2015, the American Drones possessed absolute hegemony over the world's skies, a hegemony that began from the moment Washington launched the first recorded attack with armed drones in Afghanistan in 2001, but this has changed during the last five years with many other powers achieving breakthroughs in the field of drones manufacturing and in The forerunner is China, and Turkey, which is today one of the most prominent global powers in this field.

There are many reasons that may have pushed Ankara to place the manufacture of drones at the heart of its ambitious plan to produce weapons domestically, on the one hand (2) the drones are considered an effective weapon at the strategic and operational level, in addition to being inexpensive compared with conventional weapons and at the forefront of which are jet aircraft, and on the other hand, With the manufacture of drones considered an exclusive privilege for a few countries that can be confined to the fingers of one hand, the success in penetrating this field has provided Ankara with the global reputation it needs as a new member of the club of arms-producing and exporting countries.

In this context, and although Turkey's arms exports have not yet exceeded 3% of the volume of global arms exports (a figure that has doubled at least twice compared to 2016), it appears that Ankara is determined to increase its share in this field, driven by broad ambitions to establish a well-established domestic defense industry. And it appears that drones of all kinds will continue to play the spearhead role in these unprecedented efforts.

Since 1975, Turkey has had an uncomfortable relationship with the United States after the latter imposed sanctions on arms exports to the former after it invaded Cyprus in response to the Greek-backed military coup on the island, and this tension with Washington had a long-term impact on the behavior of Ankara, which became less confident in US military support, and as a result, over the next decade, the Turks established a number of domestic defense industries companies, most of which focused on producing ammunition and small arms, while some - such as the Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) - worked on larger projects such as producing guided missiles and aircraft.

The drone "Anka" (Reuters)

Nevertheless, and due to the severe restrictions imposed by Washington on the export of drone technology in particular, Ankara (3) entered the drone era for the first time from the same traditional door when it bought 6 GNAT 750s in 1996. Produced by the American company General Atomics, it is a limited-capacity drones that is used for reconnaissance and information gathering purposes. The Turks employed it to collect information about the Workers ’Party fighters in the provinces of southeastern Turkey, where the rebels took advantage of the rugged mountain passes to evade the Turkish security forces, and Turkey’s benefit from the information provided by the aircraft The American administration is very limited because of the time it takes to transfer data from the aircraft to the operations centers and then evaluate this information and its quality before deciding to launch an air strike using fighter jets.

Later, in 2006, Turkey requested the acquisition of "Heron" armed drones from Israel, which had been using military drones since the 1970s, but it took five years for Tel Aviv to provide the aircraft to Ankara, before the latter accused the Israelis of sabotaging the engines. The plane and its remote imaging systems and its return for the sake of a repair process that also took a few years, and even after the Turks recovered the planes - which were being operated with the help of Israeli technicians - officials remained skeptical that the footage collected from these aircraft finds its way secretly into the hands of Israeli intelligence. Doubts exacerbated in particular after the diplomatic rupture between Ankara and Tel Aviv following the events of the "Marmara" ship in 2010, when Israel killed nine Turkish citizens on board the ship that was trying to break the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip.

Realizing these facts, Ankara began making early efforts to launch a local program for the manufacture of drones, and it is estimated that Turkey began working on designing the airframe, software and communication systems since the early 1990s, but the actual beginning of this path occurred in 2004 when the Turkish army launched a government tender for design and development. A high endurance medium-altitude drone (MALE) won by the Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), which then launched an unmanned aircraft named "Anka", a drone that is said to have been able to fly at an altitude of 30,000 feet for a period of up to 24 An hour, but the first flight of "Anka" in 2010 did not go well, as the plane crashed ten minutes after take-off. Otherwise, the plane relied on radio waves in its communication system, which reduced the range of communication, and limited the data transfer rate. And then reduce the utility of the plane in general.

The main problem for Turkey was that the "Anka", like the "Heron", were not armed drones

Simultaneously, (4) Turkey faced no less complex problems in importing engines and technical parts needed to manufacture its own aircraft, as the German company "Thielert", which was supplying engines to Ankara, stopped working, and the Chinese purchasing company, "AVIC International", also stopped exporting engines. Military, prompting the Turks to launch a program to manufacture a local engine, but these problems did not completely halt the efforts to develop "Anka" completely, as the Turkish plane succeeded in making its first successful flight before the end of 2011, and by 2013 the "Anka" aircraft had been accepted. To work for the Turkish Air Force.

Despite all of this, the main problem for Turkey was that "Anka", like "Heron", was not armed drones, which means that the missing link in the operating chain between information gathering and carrying out operations at the time is still missing, and that defect became evident in 2011 for example. For example, when hundreds of PKK militants launched simultaneous attacks on Turkish bases in Hakkari district in the southeast in an attack described as the most prominent of the party in decades, and while the "Heron" planes were able to transmit footage of the attacks from above, they did not have Any built-in weapons systems intervened in the scene, and Turkey eventually found itself forced to respond traditionally by sending thousands of troops to launch ground operations across the border in Iraq.

At that time, Turkey was also getting (5) some intelligence shots and signals from US "Predators" planes, but Washington insisted on refusing to sell armed drones due to its concerns about Ankara's "hostile" stance towards Israel as it sees it.

So, by the year 2015, Turkey made a final decision to stop relying on the "unreliable" American ally and to run its own arms race against Washington and NATO countries, and the development of an armed drone was Turkey's top priority in this race, which paved the way for the emergence of the second generation of Turkish drones.

The journey of the second generation (6) of the Turkish Drones began almost parallel to the first generation, but with less government support.

In 2005, a 26-year-old Turkish man who studied electrical engineering locally and obtained a master's degree from the University of Pennsylvania in the US, before applying for a doctoral study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, succeeded in persuading a group of Turkish officials to attend a small show of a drone He was working on it himself, and in order to convince officials to adopt his project, the young "Seljuk Bayraktar" told them that his colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute are working on similar models for American military projects.

And as the heavily circulated video clip in recent years shows, Turkish officials have seen - perhaps for the first time - a small Bayraktar plane taking off on its own and deploying its mock weapons before gently descending on the way to the landing and settling back into Bayraktar's hands. Turkish officials were not very satisfied with the offer made by the young man, who until that time was unknown to the authorities in Ankara, despite his being from a family that has a large activity in the auto industry in Turkey.

Later, Selcuk presented a special scientific paper at the Massachusetts Institute that contained an algorithm for landing a drone in very rough terrain and even vertically on the wall, but the young Turk decided by 2007 to cut his studies at the prestigious American institute and return to Turkey to participate in the management of the family company Bayraktar Makina, a company specializing in auto components, was established in 1984 as part of Turkey's efforts to manufacture cars locally. After the company succeeded in winning a tender put forward by the Turkish army to manufacture a model of a small unmanned aircraft, Ankara finally ordered 19 units of them to be manufactured and deployed in Provinces of the southeast of the country.

Thanks to his new work with the army, Bayraktar finally found the opportunity to test his new theories and models in the field, and he succeeded in convincing the generals to be with them in the field in order to take detailed notes about the types of technologies required for his aircraft, and by 2015 the young engineer had finally succeeded in a successful demonstration of the most advanced drones. "Bayraktar TB2", which attracted the attention of the Turkish army strongly after it succeeded during performance tests in hitting a target 8 kilometers away using a Turkish-made guided missile while flying at an altitude of 4 kilometers. In the same year, Bayraktar gained a great personal step with The Turkish president, after he married his youngest daughter, Sumaya Erdogan.

The wedding of his son Erdogan "Sumaya" from "Selcuk Bayraktar" (communication sites)

In a short period, the new Bayraktar aircraft became the backbone of the Turkish Air Force thanks to its relatively high technical capabilities. Today, the Bayraktar drones can fly at an altitude of 24,000 feet (about 7.3 km) for up to 24 hours and have an average range of 15 km. With the ability to carry a payload weighing 55 kilograms, and with this remarkable development in the capabilities of the local drones, Ankara decided to rely on it as a main weapon in its fight against Kurdish organizations in the southeast of the country and on its borders with Iraq, and by June of last year 2019, Bayraktar aircraft were The Turkish government has achieved a record of 100,000 flying hours in less than four years, and according to Turkish media reports, the Drones participated in air strikes against Kurdish organizations in at least 11 provinces in southeastern Turkey, and they were also used in five cross-border operations in Syria. And Iraq, the last of which was Operation Peace Spring last October.

With the great success demonstrated by the plane, especially in the Turkish operations against the Kurds, Ankara decided to expand (7) the scope of its use of drones along the coasts of the Aegean and Mediterranean seas, which caused successive frictions between Turkey and Cyprus and Greece on the other hand, as Athens in particular complained about That the Turkish drones flew repeatedly over its islands in the Aegean Sea, while Cyprus expressed on more than one occasion its complaint about the Turkish drones flying over the gas exploration ships sent by Turkey to explore the disputed waters between Cyprus and Greece, otherwise Turkey has offered during the past year what it does not Less than 12 Bayraktar aircraft were sent to the internationally recognized Government of Libyan National Accord to help it repel the attack launched by General Khalifa Haftar and his militia on Tripoli, while Ankara launched vigorous efforts to promote its drones to interested countries, foremost among which are Qatar, Malaysia and Azerbaijan, Before it actually managed to sign a contract to export 12 advanced UAVs to Ukraine.

Thanks to these successes, the Drones gained confidence and a great position within the army, and turned into a cultural icon outside it to the point that Erdogan himself was keen to take memorial photos with his country's drones and put his signature on some of them, and on the same steps the rulers of the Turkish provinces, especially in the southeast, which is witnessing a rebellion from the Workers Party , And they became regular guests of Turkish drones' barns to offer frequent praise and praise for the new icons of the Turkish military.

Erdogan takes memorial photos with his country's drones and puts his signature on some of them (Anadolu Agency)

As a result of this official and popular interest, the drones program in Turkey received a big boost (8) during the past two years, as the country's fleet of Bayraktar aircraft doubled from 32 in 2017 to nearly 94 aircraft before the end of last year, at least half of which are armed drones.

At the same time, the size of the Anka aircraft fleet grew to at least 30 aircraft, so that the Drones became a mainstay of at least six Turkish security and military organizations, which are the army, the air force, the navy, the gendarmerie (the military police), the intelligence apparatus and the General Directorate of Security (the civil police).

This prompted Ankara to establish a special network of sites prepared to receive drones in the southeast of the country, along its borders with Syria and on its coasts on the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas, and it provided these sites with the necessary equipment, starting from receiving hangars to flying towers, and today the total number is estimated. Drones bases in Turkey have at least nine bases, and these facilities are very necessary to operate the Turkish drones fleet, given that the range of most Turkish drones does not exceed a hundred miles at the present time, and most of them depend on traditional communication systems and not on satellites.

However, the Turkish drones boom was not limited to an increase in the number of aircraft and drones bases only, but the Turkish drones developers have succeeded in achieving remarkable technical leaps in recent months. In August 2018, Anka aircraft carried out the first air raid controlled by satellites. In December of the same year, ANKA completed its first flight with a locally produced engine, and in 2019, Bayraktar and Anka broke their endurance records and flew each for longer than 24 hours. UAVs The country's two presidents Bayraktar Makina and the Turkish Aerospace Industries Corporation have announced plans to manufacture high-altitude high-endurance drones (HALE) under the name Akinci and Axungor respectively, putting Turkey on the verge of possessing a new, more sophisticated generation of drones. Armed.

The Akinci plane in particular is considered a very ambitious step in Turkey's huge project to produce drones, with a wing-to-wing circumference of 20 meters, an operating time of more than 24 hours, an altitude exceeding 40,000 feet (about 15 kilometers), and a payload ranging from 450 to 900 kg, and the ability to carry and launch long-range cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs, and other advanced equipment that includes an advanced radar, a special electronic warfare system and space communication systems. With all this, "Axense" will not only be the first long-range armed drone in the Turkish Drones fleet, but it will make The Bayraktar TB2 and Anka aircraft, in comparison, appear to be just rudimentary toys.

In light of this, it was not surprising that the Turkish government pays utmost attention to the efforts of the Bayraktar Makina company and the Akinci project in particular, an interest that appeared in the Turkish President’s decision last September to grant the company exemption from taxes on exports and value-added tax. , In addition to a grant estimated at $ 120 million with the aim of establishing a new factory for drones, with a clear goal (9) to produce 36 Akinci aircraft during the next two years.

This massive and ambitious Turkish program to produce unmanned aircraft cannot be viewed in isolation from Ankara's broader efforts to establish a domestic defense industry.

In order to achieve this huge goal, "Bayraktar Makina" cooperates with the Ukrainian company "Ukrspecexport" to supply it with advanced turbine engines that Turkey is still unable to produce domestically, provided that Kiev will eventually obtain 12 units of advanced aircraft after the completion of the production process. Officials in Ankara are very much anticipating the entry into service of the new aircraft, which is defined as a "surface-to-air unmanned combat aircraft" and not a conventional unmanned aircraft. With the advanced capabilities of the aircraft in carrying bombs, directing them accurately and launching missiles with a range of 600 kilometers, it is likely that it will replace aircraft. " F-16 "in Turkish operations against the PKK, as well as providing Ankara with low-cost and risky aerial surveillance capabilities around the clock in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean regions."

With these great successes, the indication that this huge and ambitious Turkish program to produce unmanned aircraft cannot be ignored in any way in isolation from Ankara's broader efforts to establish a domestic defense industry that can be relied upon and its ambition to achieve self-sufficiency in weapons, so the Turkish defense industries projects Today, it is not limited to drones, but rather includes several fields (10), starting from land vehicles and armored vehicles, passing through naval ships, and not ending with aerospace projects.

In the field of maritime industries, for example, Ankara has established a number of mega projects, foremost of which are "Istanbul Shipyard" and "The Blessed Navy Shipyard", and has succeeded in securing billions of dollars in export contracts with Pakistan and Indonesia. At the same time, Sedef Shipbuilding "is building the first amphibious assault ship for the Turkish Navy, which is the first step in an ambitious project to create a domestic aircraft carrier, while the prestigious defense company" Autocar "is undertaking a number of huge projects such as manufacturing the" Altai "tank, which has gained a good reputation in recent years, and the company is active" Aselsan is in the defense electronics business and exports its products to more than 60 countries around the world.

Turkey is seeking to enhance its self-sufficiency and free itself from the domination of Western arms suppliers, especially the United States and Germany, which have rejected dozens of requests from Ankara.

By revitalizing its domestic defense industry, Ankara aims to achieve several goals simultaneously. As indicated by (11) the prestigious "Stratfor" institution for intelligence studies, the first of these goals is to provide funds and stimulate economic growth for the country. With Turkey possessing the second largest military power in NATO, The country needs huge investments in military equipment, especially with its desire to get rid of old equipment that dates back to the time of the Cold War.

In this context, having a well-developed domestic defense industry will save the burden of exorbitant bills for spending on foreign equipment and weapons, as well as its contribution to the development of the local industrial sector and the country's economy as a whole.

In addition to that, Turkey is also seeking to enhance its self-sufficiency and freedom from the domination of Western arms suppliers, especially the United States and Germany, which have rejected dozens of requests from Ankara to obtain weapons during the last five years, and it makes reducing dependence on foreign imports a vital goal for Ankara, and finally, Ankara wants to exploit Its arms exports as a means of enhancing its presence in its geographical environment and presenting itself as a reliable ally for many partners within its broader plan to gain influence.

At the level of all these goals, it seems that Turkey's plan is bearing fruit, albeit according to a schedule that is slower than it was aspiring to, whether due to economic restrictions or the huge competition it has received as a medium power seeking to break into the councils of adults, but in the field of drones in particular. Ankara seems to have succeeded in proving a presence that cannot be ignored, and it can be proud - and will never be wrong - that it was one of the few forces that succeeded in breaking the US's hegemony over the sky in the time of the deadly drones.



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