Bayraktar armed drones manufactured by a Turkish defense contractor performed poorly in the field 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 Panel of Experts on Libya on March 8, 2021, Bayraktar TB-2 armed drones “were easily destroyed in the air by the Pantsir S-1 air defence system,” which was supplied by the United Arab Emirates and later Russia.
The Pantsir S-1 is a combined short to medium-range surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft artillery weapons system manufactured by Russia’s KBP Instrument Design Bureau.
UN investigators also found that Turkish armed drones “were vulnerable to ground attack when located at their operating bases at the Tripoli and Misratah airports.”
How many drones Turkey lost during the fighting in Libya has never been revealed, but there were at least three confirmed destructions of Turkish drones in June 2019 alone. The UN believes more TB2s were lost in battle, prompting Turkey to send dozens more drones to compensate for the losses.
Turkey had to introduce several elements to Libya to neutralize the Pantsir S-1 threat to its drones, deploying Fırtına T155 155mm artillery guns and T-122 Sakarya multi-launch rocket systems while providing air defense coverage from warships and Korkut short-range air defense systems. Faced with superior firepower and modern arms technologies, the forces of the rebel opposition led by Khalifa Haftar were defeated in western Libya in 2020.
The dynamics changed quickly when Russia deployed Mig-29A and Sukhoi Su-24 aircraft in support of Haftar and delivered the Pantsir S-1 surface-to-air missile systems to the 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:UN_report_Libya_bayraktar_drones
Russian military planners believe they can easily counter the TB-2 threat in a conventional war using their sophisticated counter drone defense systems, which were developed using data collected in Libya, the Caucasus and Syria. They have concluded that a combination of a robust electronic warfare defense, early warning radars and anti-aircraft systems would neutralize drone attacks on Russian forces or their allies in a future conflict.
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 declared capital was 7 million Turkish lira ($523,000) according to a trade registry filing made on January 17, 2022. The company has landed major contracts with the Turkish government as well as with foreign countries because of the considerable support it receives from President Erdoğan, who lobbies for the sale of drones to the Turkish Armed Forces as well to other countries. Customers that have taken delivery of armed drones are Ukraine, Poland, Qatar, Libya, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Ethiopia and Azerbaijan.
Nordic Monitor published a confidential document in 2019 revealing serious problems with Bayraktar drones documented by field officers and submitted to the Office of the General Staff. According to the document, problems included failures of communication between ground data terminals and drones. The report made clear that the desired results from the Bayraktar drone systems could not be obtained because of constant malfunctions and concluded that they had negatively impacted military surveillance and offensive capabilities.
The classified report was drafted by Capt. Gökhan Dülgergil, an intelligence officer, and signed by Malatya Garrison Commander Maj. Gen. Avni Angun. The report was never made public, and the problems were swept under the rug by order of President Erdoğan. In the meantime, Gen. Angun paid a huge price for documenting problems with the Bayraktar drones. He was arrested in 2016 and jailed on bogus charges.
Turkey came under harsh criticism for its use and sale of drones and drew condemnation from international human rights organizations. Canada in 2020 suspended and later blocked military arms exports to Turkey after a probe found Canadian drone technology had been misdirected for use in conflict.
Bayraktar drones also worried dozens of US lawmakers, who called on the State Department to suspend export licenses for US drone technology to Turkey pending an official investigation into the destabilizing role of Turkey’s drone programs in many parts of the world.
“The potential for these drones to further destabilize flashpoints in the Caucuses [sic], South Asia, the Eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East, and North Africa is too great to ignore,” said 27 members of the US House of Representatives in a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken in August 2021.
Bayraktar’s trade registry filing in January 2022:Bayraktar_trade_registry_filing_January
According to the letter, the evidence collected from the battlefield in the Caucasus confirmed that Bayraktar drones contain parts and technology from US firms and their affiliates. “The continued transfer of such technology appears to violate arms export control laws and run afoul [of] CAATSA sanctions that Congress has imposed on Turkey, especially its Savunma Sanayii Başkanlığı (SSB) (Turkey’s Presidency of Defense Industries),” the letter said.
Turkey has scrambled to replace imported parts for its drones with locally manufactured items with some degree of success. Turkish defense contractor Aselsan reportedly developed the Common Aperture Targeting System (CATS) for Baykar, replacing a system acquired from abroad.
According to Turkey’s 2021 export figures announced by the Turkish Exporters Assembly in early December, Turkey’s arms sales reached a record level, 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 percent compared to the same period of the previous year. The Turkish 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 more than $3 billion. For the first time the defense sector had a 1.8 percent share of Turkey’s total exports in November 2021.
Ethiopia used a Turkish drone in January in an attack that killed at least 59 civilians sheltering in a school in Tigray, according to an analysis by The Washington Post on February 7, 2022. Weapon remnants recovered from the site of the strike by aid workers showed internal components and screw configurations that matched images of Turkish-made MAM-L munitions released by the weapons manufacturer. The MAM-L pairs exclusively with the Turkish-made Bayraktar TB-2 drone.
The attacks have drawn criticism from US President Joe Biden and a warning from the United Nations that they may constitute a grave violation of international law.