Bayraktar armed drones made by a Turkish defense contractor performed poorly on the ground and were an easy target for ground fire, UN investigators concluded last year.
According to a report submitted to the UN Security Council by the Group of Experts on Libya on March 8, 2021, the Bayraktar TB-2 armed drones “were easily destroyed in the air by the Pantsir S-air defense system. 1”, which was supplied by the United Arab Emirates and later Russia.
The Pantsir S-1 is a combined short- and medium-range surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft artillery weapon system manufactured by the Russian KBP Instrument Design Bureau.
UN investigators also found that Turkish armed drones “were vulnerable to ground attack while at their operating bases at Tripoli and Misratah airports”.
The number of drones lost by Turkey in the fighting in Libya has never been revealed, but there have been at least three confirmed downings of Turkish drones in June 2019 alone. The UN believes more TB2s were lost in combat, prompting Turkey to send dozens more drones to make up for the losses.
Turkey had to introduce several elements into Libya to neutralize the Pantsir S-1 threat on its drones, deploying Fırına T155 155mm artillery guns and T-122 Sakarya multiple rocket launcher systems while providing air defense cover from warships and Korkut short-range air defense systems. Facing superior firepower and modern weaponry technologies, rebel opposition forces led by Khalifa Haftar were defeated in western Libya in 2020.
The dynamic changed rapidly when Russia deployed Mig-29A and Sukhoi Su-24 aircraft to support Haftar and delivered the Pantsir S-1 surface-to-air missile systems to private Russian military contractors hired by Haftar.
The UN report on Libya was prepared by experts Lipika Majumdar Roy Choudhury, Alia Aoun, Dina Badawy, Luis Antonio de Alburquerque Bacardit, Yassine Marjane and Adrian Wilkinson.
The UN’s assessment of the effectiveness of Bayraktar armed drones in Libya:
Russian military planners believe they can easily counter the TB-2 threat in conventional warfare using their sophisticated drone defense systems, which were developed from data collected in Libya, the Caucasus and Syria. They concluded that a combination of robust electronic warfare defense, early warning radars and anti-aircraft systems would neutralize drone attacks against Russian forces or their allies in a future conflict.
The Bayraktar drones were manufactured by Istanbul-based defense contractor Baykar Makina Sanayi ve Ticaret Anonim Şirketi (Baykar), which is run by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son-in-law Selçuk Bayraktar. The company’s stated capital was 7 million Turkish liras ($523,000) according to a commercial registry filing made on January 17, 2022. The company has landed major contracts with the Turkish government as well as foreign countries due to the tremendous support she receives from the President. Erdoğan, who is pushing for the sale of drones to the Turkish Armed Forces as well as other countries. Customers who have taken delivery of armed drones include Ukraine, Poland, Qatar, Libya, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Ethiopia and Azerbaijan.
Nordic Monitor released a confidential document in 2019 revealing serious issues with Bayraktar drones documented by field operatives and submitted to the General Staff Office. According to the document, the issues included communication failures between ground data terminals and the drones. The report clearly stated that the desired results of the Bayraktar drone systems could not be achieved due to constant malfunctions and concluded that they had negatively impacted military surveillance and offensive capabilities.
The classified report was written by Captain Gökhan Dülgergil, an intelligence officer, and signed by the Malatya garrison commander, Major General Avni Angun. The report was never made public and the issues were swept under the rug by order of President Erdoğan. In the meantime, General Angun has paid a huge price to document the problems with Bayraktar drones. He was arrested in 2016 and imprisoned on false charges.
Turkey has been heavily criticized for its use and sale of drones and has been condemned by international human rights organisations. In 2020, Canada suspended and then blocked military arms exports to Turkey after an investigation found Canadian drone technology had been misused for use in conflict.
The Bayraktar drones have also worried dozens of US lawmakers, who have called on the State Department to suspend licenses to export US drone technology to Turkey pending a formal investigation into the destabilizing role of US drones. Turkish drone programs in many parts of the world.
“The potential for these drones to further destabilize flashpoints in Caucuses [sic]Asia, the Eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East and North Africa is too big to ignore,” 27 members of the U.S. House of Representatives said in a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken in August 2021.
Filing in the commercial register of Bayraktar in January 2022:
According to the letter, evidence collected from the battlefield in the Caucasus has confirmed that Bayraktar drones contain parts and technology from US companies and their subsidiaries. “The continued transfer of this technology appears to violate arms export control laws and run counter to [of] The CAATSA sanctions that Congress has imposed on Turkey, especially its Savunma Sanayii Başkanlığı (SSB) (Turkish Defense Industries Presidency),” the letter reads.
Turkey has moved quickly to replace imported parts of its drones with locally made items with some success. Turkish defense contractor Aselsan is said to have developed the Common Aperture Targeting System (CATS) for Baykar, replacing a system acquired overseas.
According to Turkey’s export figures for 2021 announced by the Assembly of Turkish Exporters in early December, Turkey’s arms sales have reached an all-time high, with the biggest increase to African countries.
In the first 11 months of 2021, Turkey exported $2.8 billion worth of defense products, an increase of 39.7% compared to the same period of the previous year. Turkey’s defense industry, which set an export record of $2.7 billion in 2019, broke a new record at the end of 2021 with exports of over $3 billion. For the first time, the defense sector accounted for 1.8% of Turkey’s total exports in November 2021.
Ethiopia used a Turkish drone in January in an attack that killed at least 59 civilian refugees at a school in Tigray, according to a Washington Post analysis from February 7, 2022. Remains of weapons recovered from the site of the strike by aid workers showed internal components and screw configurations that matched images of Turkish-made MAM-L ammunition released by the arms manufacturer. The MAM-L pairs exclusively with the Turkish-made Bayraktar TB-2 drone.
The attacks drew criticism from US President Joe Biden and a warning from the United Nations that they could be a serious breach of international law.