Drone Terror from Turkey
Arms buildup and crimes under international law - with German participation
Matthias Monroy, Researcher, activist and member of the editorial board of the journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP
In Kurdistan, Libya or Azerbaijan, Turkish "Bayraktar TB2" have already violated international law. Currently, the civilian population in Ethiopia is being bombed with combat drones. Support comes from Germany, among others.
For almost two decades, companies from the USA and Israel were the undisputed market leaders for armed drones; today, China and Turkey can claim more and more exports for themselves. Turkey is best known for its "Bayraktar TB2," which the military has been using since 2016 in the Turkish, Syrian and now also Iraqi parts of Kurdistan in violation of international law. In the four-month Operation Olive Branch in Kurdish Rojava alone, the "TB2" is said to have scored 449 direct hits four years ago and enabled fighter jets or helicopters to make such hits in 680 cases. It has a payload of 65 kilograms and can remain in the air for over 24 hours.
The Turkish military also flies the "Anka", which is also capable of carrying weapons and is manufactured by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI). In a new version, it can be controlled via satellites and thus achieves a greater range than the "TB2". The "Anka" carries up to 200 kilograms, four times the payload of its competitors. The newest version of both drones can now stay in the air for longer than 24 hours.
Drone industry is dependent on imports
The "Anka" is also being exported, but the "TB2" is currently most widely used. The drone is manufactured by Baykar, whose founder and namesake is Selçuk Bayraktar, a son-in-law of the Turkish president. The "TB2" also flew attacks on Armenian troops off Nagorno-Karabakh, for the Tripoli government in Libya and for Azerbaijan; there it might have even - together with unmanned aerial vehicles of Israeli production - been decisive for the war, according to some observers.
The aggressive operations prompted further orders; after Qatar, Ukraine, Morocco, Tunisia and Turkmenistan, Baykar is the first NATO country to sell the drone to Poland. About a dozen countries are said to have already received deliveries, and about as many are said to be considering procurement. Interest is reportedly coming from as far away as Lithuania and even the United Kingdom.
The comparatively young Turkish drone industry is able to produce many of the components for its unmanned aerial vehicles itself or buy them from domestic suppliers, but manufacturers are still dependent on imports for key components. This applies to engines, for example, which are also produced in Turkey but are less powerful than competing products. For this reason, the "TB2" flew with Rotax engines from Austria, among others. Following Turkey's support for the Azerbaijani war of aggression, the company stopped supplying Baykar.
Canada imposes export ban
According to the Kurdish news agency ANF, Baykar has also made purchases from Continental Motors, a U.S. corporation partly based in Germany that took over Thielert Aircraft Engines GmbH eight years ago. A cruise control system made by the Bavarian company MT-Propeller was found in a crashed "TB2". According to the Armenian National Committee of America, a radar altimeter manufactured by SMS Smart Microwave Sensors GmbH and a fuel filter made by Hengst were also installed in the drone.
However, exports of these products are not subject to licensing, and sales may also have been made through intermediaries. Hengst, for example, also sells its products through automotive wholesalers; the company says it does not know how the filter came into Baykar's possession.
Originally, the "TB2" was also equipped with a sensor module from the Canadian manufacturer Wescam. This is effectively the eye of the drone, mounted in a hemispherical container on the fuselage. This so-called gimbal can be swiveled 360° and contains, among other things, optical and infrared-based cameras as well as various laser technologies. Wescam also finally ended its cooperation with Baykar after the government in Ottawa issued an export ban on the occasion of the war over Nagorno-Karabakh. The country had already imposed a temporary halt to deliveries following Turkish operations in the Kurdish region of Rojava in North Syria.
"Eye" of the drone from Hensoldt
Selçuk Bayraktar commented on the decision made by the Canadian Foreign Minister, saying that the required sensor technology could now also be produced in Turkey. In the meantime, the Turkish company Aselsan has also reported in newspapers close to the government that the sensor technology can now be produced completely domestically. Presumably, however, these devices are heavier than the imported products, so that the payload of small combat drones would be reduced.
Hensoldt, a German company specializing in sensor technology, has been one of the suppliers. This was initially indicated by footage of a parade in the capital of Turkmenistan, where a freshly purchased "TB2" was also displayed to mark the 30th anniversary of the attainment of independence in Aşgabat last year. In this case, the drone was equipped with a gimbal from Hensoldt. It contains the ARGOS-II module, which, according to the product description, has a laser illuminator and a laser marker. This can be used, for example, to guide a missile into the target.
Hensoldt was formed after a spinoff of several divisions of defense contractor Airbus, including its radar, optronics, avionics and electronic device jamming businesses. As a company of outstanding security importance, the German government has secured a blocking minority. The Italian defense group Leonardo is also a shareholder.
Rocket technology from Germany
The ARGOS module is manufactured by Hensoldt's offshoot Optronics Pty in Pretoria, South Africa. When asked, a company spokesman confirmed the cooperation with Baykar. According to the company, the devices were delivered from South Africa to Turkey in an undisclosed quantity "as part of an order". In the process, "all applicable national and international laws and export control regulations" were allegedly complied with.
The arming of the "TB2" with laser-guided missiles was also carried out with German assistance. This is confirmed by answers to questions in the German Bundestag reported by the magazine "Monitor". According to these reports, the German Foreign Ministry has issued several export licenses for warheads of an anti-tank missile since 2010. They originate from the company TDW Wirksysteme GmbH from the Bavarian town of Schrobenhausen, an offshoot of the European missile manufacturer MBDA.
According to the report, the sales were presumably made to the state-owned Turkish company Roketsan. Equipment or parts for the production of the missiles are also said to have been exported to Turkey. The TDW guided missiles were of the "LRAT" and "MRAT" types, which are produced in Turkey under a different name. Based on the German exports, Roketsan is said to have developed the "MAM" missiles for drones; they are now part of the standard equipment of the "TB2". These so-called micro-precision munitions are light warheads that can be used to destroy armored targets.
Export licenses without end-use statement
Roketsan sells the MAM guided missiles in three different versions, including a so-called vacuum bomb. Their development may have been carried out with the cooperation of the Bavarian company Numerics Software GmbH, according to ANF Deutsch. Numerics specializes in calculating the optimal explosive effect of armor-piercing weapons. According to the German Foreign Ministry, however, the company's products, for which licenses have been issued for delivery to Turkey, are not suitable for the warheads in question.
When the German government issues export licenses for military equipment, it can insist on a so-called end-use declaration. In the case of Turkey, the government would commit to obtaining German permission before reselling to a third country. The Foreign Ministry would not say whether such exchanges on missiles, sensors or other German technology have taken place. In total, export licenses for goods "for use or installation in military drones" with a total value of almost 13 million euros have been issued to Turkey, according to a response from last year.
Deployment in Ethiopia
As one of the current "hot spots", the "Bayraktar TB2" is currently being deployed by Ethiopia in the civil war with the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF). As recently as December, the Tigrinese rebels were on the verge of entering the capital Addis Ababa, but the tide has since turned. Many observers attribute this to the air force. The Ethiopian military has 22 Russian MiG-23 and Sukhoi-27 fighter jets, as well as several attack helicopters.
But the decisive factor is said to have been armed drones, whose armament allows far more precise attacks. "There were suddenly ten drones in the sky", the rebel general Tsadokan Gebretensae confirmed to the New York Times in an interview. In a swarm, these had attacked soldiers and convoys. The Reuters news agency quotes a foreign military who claims to have "clear indications" of a total of 20 drones in use. However, these also come from China and Iran.
Evidence, meanwhile, shows that the Turkish combat drones are used as before in Kurdistan and other countries for crimes under international law. On several occasions, they have also flown attacks on civilians, including in convoys with refugees. Hundreds of people are reported to have died under Turkish-made bombs and missiles.
After the "TB2" comes the significantly larger "Akıncı"
In the future, the Turkish military could deploy a significantly larger drone with two engines, which Baykar has developed under the name "Akıncı". This drone will be controlled via satellites, which will significantly increase its range compared to the "TB2". Its payload is said to be nearly 1.5 tons, of which 900 kilograms can be carried under the wings as armament. According to Baykar, the "Akıncı" can also be used in aerial combat. Unarmed, it can be equipped with optical sensors, radar systems or electronic warfare technology.
Baykar's competitor TAI is also developing a long-range drone with two engines. The "Aksungur" is said to have capabilities comparable to the "Akıncı" and was first flown for tests in 2019.
This article was first published in the March/April2022 edition of the Kurdistan Report.