Recent video footage on social media showing Turkey’s mostly locally produced armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) striking everything from tanks to howitzers owned by the Bashar Assad regime in northwestern Syria’s Idlib has been noted as an example of the level of air defense capabilities that the country has achieved.
Turkey’s massive retaliatory strikes and artillery shelling in Idlib were prompted by a regime attack on Thursday that killed 33 Turkish soldiers and injured tens of others in the area. At least 2,200 Syrian regime troops, a drone, eight helicopters, 103 tanks, tens of howitzers and three air defense systems were neutralized, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Sunday.
Among the clips that went viral on social media, an apparently active Russian-made Pantsir S-1 air defense system mounted on its eight-wheel-drive truck can be seen sitting placidly as the MAM-L smart ammunition projectile, developed by leading defense company ROKETSAN and fired from a domestically developed Bayraktar TB2 armed drone, barrels toward it.
The footage showed the defense system’s radar was active moments before the impact, indicating that the system failed to detect the incoming missile or possibly the drone that was flying over the range of the radar.
A number of other clips show Turkey’s UAVs striking tanks, armed vehicles, ammunition depots, heavy machine guns, as well as Assad's military personnel.
Akar said the Turkish military launched Operation Spring Shield in Idlib in response to a brutal regime attack on Feb. 27. Turkish soldiers are working to protect local civilians as part of a September 2018 deal with Russia, which prohibits acts of aggression in the de-escalation zone set up around Idlib.
Backed by heavy Russian airstrikes, Syrian regime forces have been fighting since the start of the year to recapture the Aleppo countryside and parts of neighboring Idlib, the last opposition stronghold in the country. The advances have sent hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians fleeing toward the border with Turkey in the biggest single displacement of the nine-year war.
Operation Spring Shield is the fourth Turkish military operation in northern Syria.
Turkey on Oct. 9, 2019, launched Operation Peace Spring to eliminate YPG terrorists from the area east of the Euphrates River in northern Syria to secure Turkey's borders, aid in the safe return of Syrian refugees and ensure Syria's territorial integrity.
Besides the Operation Peace Spring, Turkey carried out two cross-border operations west of the Euphrates River, Operation Euphrates Shield in August 2016 and Operation Olive Branch in January 2018, to drive out terrorists, including the YPG and Daesh, from its borders. Turkish and Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces entered Afrin town center and liberated it from terrorists on March 18.
Game changers: TB2, ANKA drones
In all these operations, Turkey managed to deploy a variety of domestically manufactured air and defense platforms, all of which emerged as a result of successful and custom-made projects the country carried out over the last year to diminish the dependency on imported products and platforms. The country has come to a position where the national input ratio in the industry has reached 65%.
Particularly homegrown drones, Bayraktar TB2 and ANKA, have both played a significant role and displayed the long way Turkey has come in the nationalization process in defense industries.
The Bayraktar TB2 UAV was domestically produced by Turkey’s leading unmanned aerial platform developer Baykar Makina.
The system, which has fully autonomous taxi, take-off, normal cruising and landing capability with its three-redundant avionics systems and sensor fusion architecture, has been actively used since 2014 as the first national tactical unmanned aerial vehicle system included in the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) inventory. The drones have since played a major role in Turkish security forces' anti-terror operations at home and abroad. They are also currently used by the Gendarmerie General Command, the General Directorate of Security Forces and the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) in ongoing operations.
Performing active reconnaissance, surveillance and intelligence flights, the Bayraktar TB2 has the ability to transmit images to operation centers without delay and engage targets. It boasts a service ceiling of 8,239 meters (27,030 feet) and a flight endurance of 24 hours. It can carry 150 kilograms (330 pounds) of payload and can be operated day and night.
The Bayraktar TB2, capable of carrying four MAM-L and MAM-C missiles produced by Roketsan on its wings, can make precise targeting with its built-in laser target marker. This makes Turkey one of the six countries in the world producing its own armed drones and ammunition.
Another UAV deployed, the ANKA-S, which has also made its way to the country’s inventory, can be controlled via satellite and has a task range of thousands of kilometers. It can also collect intelligence and provide assistance for the operation center to precisely aim at targets and locate hostile elements.
Baykar Makina and TAI are in the process of developing new UAVs. Among these, Akıncı is the latest armed drone by the Baykar and is an upgraded version of the company's trademark platform Bayraktar TB2.
Operated with two turbine engines, the Akıncı is capable of carrying nearly 1.5 tons in useful load: 900 kilograms external and 450 kilograms internal. The platform can be controlled via domestically developed satellites. The drone can also be equipped with an electronic support pod, air-to-air radars, satellite communication system, barrier-identification radar, synthetic aperture radar and meteorological radar – all designed and developed in Turkey. The platform is set to operate with various ammunition configurations.
TAI's Aksungur, a medium-altitude long-flight UAV capable of performing long-term operations at up to 40,000 feet, has recently made its first flight and is expected to be delivered to the Turkish military soon.
Domestic precision-guided munitions
The video footage showing UAVs in Idlib has also displayed the pin-point accuracy of precision-guided munitions, namely the Smart Micro Munitions MAM-L and MAM-C, both of which were developed and built domestically by Turkey.
The MAM-L, developed by leading defense contractor ROKETSAN, was first deployed in Operation Olive Branch. With warheads, varying from armor-piercing to those with thermobaric heads used according to the target type, many successful missions were carried out against possible targets such as light structures, armored land vehicles, radar antennas and weapon emplacement.
With a weight lower than 50 pounds and a height shorter than 1 meter, MAM-L was developed for UAVs in all sizes, as well as for the use in light offense aircraft and for air-to-ground tasks where weight is critical.
The MAM-L, which was used in destroying the Pantsir S-1, has a high pulse sensitivity with a laser seeker head.
Carrying a price tag of $75 million, the Pantsir S-1 is currently used by 12 countries and it was also reportedly deployed in Libya by Russian mercenary firm Wagner Group. With the recent developments, Turkey became the second country to destroy such a system after Israel. Though the Pantsir S-1 is not the best in its class, it gained a particularly bad reputation since Israel's repeated success in dealing with it.
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