In late February 2020, at least 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in an airstrike in Syria’s Idlib province which Ankara blamed on the government of President Bashar al-Assad, although many suspected that it was in fact carried out by Russian forces. At the time, those monitoring events in Syria feared that the attack could trigger a direct confrontation between Turkey and Russia, a supporter of Assad.
Events leading up to this incident had already strained relations between the two countries and threatened to rupture defence, energy, and trade links. However, Ankara’s response not only marked the beginning of a new stage in the Syrian civil war, but yet another escalation in global drone warfare.
Beginning on March 1 and lasting for five days, Turkey launched an innovative drone operation against Syrian forces, targeting armoured vehicles, chemical weapons depots, and air defence systems. The Turkish air force utilised its indigenously-developed armed drones to conduct what it said were hundreds of strikes, claiming that more than 2,500 pro-regime fighters had been killed. Although these figures cannot be verified, and are likely exaggerated, many saw the operation as a success as it halted the Syrian Army’s advance toward Turkish-backed forces in Idlib and pressed Moscow into brokering a ceasefire.
So, how did Turkey reach this moment? Why, out of the two dozen countries with armed drones, is their programme now under worldwide scrutiny? And is it as potent and sophisticated as some observers claim?
Turkey first entered the drone age in 1995 with the acquisition of several GNAT 750s from US firm General Atomics. At this stage, the country had no domestic drone programme and was reliant on imports. As well as the US, Ankara placed orders with Israel, which had been using drones in combat since the 1970s. According to reports, Turkey agreed to be the 2005 launch customer for Israel Aerospace Industries’ Harop loitering munition in a $100 million deal. An additional contract, for 10 Heron drones, was signed between the two parties around the same time. This particular deal, however, was beset by delays and accusations of sabotage. (end of excerpt)
Click here for the full story, on the Drone Wars website.