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Taking a cue from Turkey’s armed UAVs, UK starts its own drone program

Turkey’s homegrown Bayraktar drones have changed battleground equations in several conflicts, so Western countries like the UK are on the path of emulating Ankara’s drone program.

The United Kingdom is planning to build a new armed drone program that will be modelled on Turkey’s drone innovation, according to the British newspaper The Guardian.

Quoting officials from the UK’s defence ministry, the Guardian reported that the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh that saw a bloody war throughout the fall last year had some lessons to offer. The most important observation the British government made from the intense six-week battle was Azerbaijan’s use of Turkish drones that proved crucial in defeating the Armenians.

Since Azerbaijan began regaining access to the Armenia-occupied Nagorno-Karabakh, it became a strong indicator of how powerful and effective armed drones can be in extracting quick victories and avoiding to hit the stalemate. 

Britain’s defence officials seem to have been studying the power of Turkish drones way before Nagorno-Karabakh became the centre of a military war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. 

In July 2020, Britain’s defence secretary Ben Wallace candidly admitted that the country needed to “look at the lessons of others.” 

“Look how Turkey has been operating in Libya where it has used Bayraktar TB-2 UAVs since mid-2019,” Ben Wallace told a virtual gathering of the Air and Space Power Conference.

“Those UAVs have conducted intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and targeting operations against frontlines, supply lines and logistics bases.”

On another occasion Wallace had noted that Turkey has done what Britain “used to do so well” and that is “they innovated” drone warfare and took it to another level.  

So what’s making Turkish drones so attractive for a country like Britain that a century ago ruled 25 percent of the earth’s land surface and about 412 million people?

Speaking to TRT World, Turkish security expert Abdullah Agar said that the impact of Turkey-made drones and UAVs is not just singular but also holistic. 

“This is also a doctrine that concerns many layers. The western world calculates the benefits of Turkish drones from both cost-efficiency and tactical aspects. Look at the military systems and installments the Turkish drones are able to destroy — the Russian Pantsir worth $ 13 million, the tanks worth $20 million. The most surprising aspect for foreign powers is that Turkey is able to destroy all of it with UAVs worth a few million dollars,” Agar told TRT World. 

“The cost of American-made protectors which are being used by the UK are worth $20 million each. Now the UAVs they will receive from Turkey, together with infrastructural materials and ground stations, will cost them about $ 2 million. In other words, the Turkish UAVs cost less than 10 times what the American ones cost”.

According to Agar, there is a battle fought at low, medium and high altitudes, even in space, and the Turkish drones have achieved certain victories by being integrated to them all that everyone can see. Everyone has seen this personally in Iraq, Syria, southeast Turkey, Libya and Karabakh.

“Now modern warfare is evolving to very different points. We’re moving from fourth-generation war to fifth-generation war. Autonomous systems, artificial intelligence and remote control UAV systems are extremely important in fifth-generation warfare. Drone technology is the most important stage of this transition phase. In the transition from the fourth generation to the fifth generation war, the Turkish drones produced a military doctrine and concept. They were highly influential in changing all known war doctrines,” Agar told TRT World. 

Agar said that he met a senior Turkish army official who told him that the UK’s defence ministry, apart from buying the Turkish UAVs and drones, was interested in learning the doctrine of deploying drones to battlegrounds. 

“It’s now become a common thought that tanks and old combat systems belong to warehouses. There was a time when Turkey used to receive training on sophisticated military skills from other powers but that has changed. It is now writing its own war doctrines based on its innovation and technological progress,” Agar said. 

One of the most potent Turkish drones is the TB2 drone which can fly at an altitude of 24,000 feet for up to 24 hours. It has a range of up to 150 kilometres and can carry a payload of 120 pounds. It has become a key military asset for cross-border and counterterrorism operations, proving successful against the PKK terror group in the southeast parts of the country. With TB2 drones hovering above, PKK terrorists are unable to move in large groups as they did before Turkey became one of the leading drone powers of the world. 


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