Rise of a “Drone Superpower?” Turkish Drones Upending Russia’s Near Abroad | WHAT REALLY HAPPENED

Rise of a “Drone Superpower?” Turkish Drones Upending Russia’s Near Abroad

Though 2020 will be defined in the history books by the COVID-19 pandemic, a story that ought to not go unnoticed is the ascendance of Turkey as a ‘drone superpower.’ This rise was by no means peaceful and comes as a result of various confrontations between Russian and Turkish proxies in the Near East. Initially, the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) struck at Russian-backed forces in the Libyan and Syrian civil wars. However, the successful usage of the Bayraktar TB2 UAV by Azeri forces in the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War demonstrates a paradigm shift for the Russians whereby Turkey is competing with them in what is called the ‘near abroad.’ According to Russian foreign policy thinkers, the ‘near abroad’ is comprised of all the post-Soviet states and is Russia’s ‘sphere of influence.’ Turkey’s ability to influence the affairs of Armenia and Azerbaijan, both post-Soviet states, brings into question Russia’s influence in the post-Soviet space.

The Turkish Bayraktar TB2 UAV was developed by Turkish defense firm Baykar. It can fly at 22,500 feet and can remain aloft for over 24 hours. From this height, it can conduct reconnaissance as well as laser-guided missile strikes. The sophisticated system can mean the difference when fighting against adversaries lacking robust indigenous anti-air capabilities, such as the Russian-backed Libyan National Army (LNA). Unfortunately for the Russians, in both the Libyan and Syrian civil war, its most touted air defense system, the Pantsir S-1, proved unable to counter in the Turkish UAVs. The Pantsir S-1 system was supposed to be a trump card to shoot down the Turkish UAVs. However, the opposite happened, and an estimated 23 Pantsir systems were lost in the Syrian and Libyan civil wars to the very Turkish drones they were supposed to defend against. The inability of the Pantsir S-1 systems to counter Turkey’s UAVs have forced the Russians to patch the Pantsir systems in a bid to restore the system’s tarnished reputation.