Jeffrey Feltman, the US Special Representative for the Horn of Africa, was in Ankara on December 15. In those days, the out-of-control exchange rates were Turkey’s sole attention centre. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was preparing for the financial operation, to be declared on December 20, on the one hand, and the Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit scheduled to be held in Istanbul on December 16-18, on the other. In a meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Önal, Feltman discussed the relations between Turkey and Ethiopia, one of the hot spots in Africa. Feltman complained that Turkey’s TB-2 unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAV), which Turkey sold to Ethiopia, had caused “civilian harm” in the Ethiopian civil war.
On December 20, a day after Feltman left Ankara, New York Times reported that the Ethiopian government had pushed back the Western-backed Tigray separatists with the help of TB-2 UCAVs purchased from Turkey; and the drones from the UAE and Iran. The US administration had conveyed their wish for Turkey not to sell TB-2 to Ethiopia.
Interestingly, at the same time, Russia had also asked Turkey to stop selling TB-2 to Ukraine. Moscow complained that the Ukrainian government used the Turkish-made UCAVs against pro-Russian separatists in the country’s east.
Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Aegean, Libya
Bayraktar TB-2 UCAVs were on display (along with Israeli-made Hermes 900s) at the Victory Day parade on December 10, held to celebrate Azerbaijan’s retake of Armenian-occupied territories at the end of 2020. According to military analysts, it was TB-2s that destroyed 535 of the 772 targets identified by the Azerbaijani army.
The interesting thing is that after the Turkish Cypriot Government gave permission to Turkey to establish a UAV – UCAV base at Geçitkale Airport, the Greek Cypriot Government decided to purchase six UCAVs from Israel. The difference was that Turkey started to produce its own unmanned aircraft. The TB-2s with a range exceeding 200 kilometres, flying 24 hours at an altitude of more than 8 kilometres and carrying Turkish-made Roketsan-manufactured MAM-L missiles also provide a counterbalance on the Aegean islands, which Greece has armed in violation of the Lausanne agreement.
In Libya, TB-2 planes played a role in the destruction of the Haftar forces backed by Russia, UAE, Egypt, France and Greece by the Tripoli government. The destruction of Russian Pantsir air missile and anti-aircraft systems in the capture of Tripoli airport was a turning point.
Of course, there is also Syria and the fight against the PKK.
Not just TB-2
TB-2 also had a significant role in Turkey’s military operations on Syrian territory between 2016-2019. It still happens. TB-2 and other Turkish-made weapons play an important role in hitting PKK targets in Syria, Iraq and Turkey. Among these, we should count the ANKA-S aircraft produced by TAI with the support of ASELSAN, and the 155 mm Fırtına (Storm) howitzer with a range of 45 kilometers, whose target detection systems were produced by ASELSAN.
TB-2s are the first to come to mind for Turkish UCAVs. The chief engineer of the manufacturer company Baykar Selçuk Bayraktar’s being the son-in-law of President Tayyip Erdoğan also contributes to this popularity. Although the TB-2 started to be used by the Turkish Armed Forces in 2014, two years before Bayraktar married Erdoğan’s daughter Sümeyye in 2016; the general opinion is different. Bayraktar’s more reactive and more political reaction to opposition’s and media’s criticisms after he became a part of the family also plays a role in this.
Apart from the countries we have mentioned, TB-2s are also used by Morocco, Qatar, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan. In addition, a sales contract was signed with NATO and EU member Poland. There are rumours that Romania is next.
The role of the USA in the making of Turkish Kalashnikov
The Kalashnikov AK-47 automatic rifle is known as one of the weapons that changed the course of war history. The AK-47 was designed by engineer Mikhail Kalashnikov in the Soviet Union after the Second World War and started to be used in 1949 as an infantry weapon of the Red Army. With its simple design that can be used anywhere from the glaciers to the deserts and swamps, the AK-47 quickly entered the inventory of armed structures all over the world, from national liberation struggles to drug cartels, from armies with a limited budget to terrorist organizations. It was used in many wars and civil wars, from Vietnam to Afghanistan to Nicaragua. It has a place on the flags of many armed organizations and, for example, on the flag of Mozambique.
Not in terms of prevalence, but in terms of the effect of changing regional balances, TB-2 unmanned aircraft can be considered as a kind of Turkish Kalashnikov AK-47.
Turkey accomplished that because of the archaic, outdated sanctions policy of the US Congress dating back to the 19th century. As a result of the military embargo imposed by the US Congress on Turkey due to the 1974 Cyprus Operation and the failure to prevent opium farming, Turkey developed its own electronic warfare industry (ASELASAN), rocket industry (ROKETSAN) and aviation industry (TUSAŞ). ASELSAN, which is a discussion topic in Turkey these days because of the rumours that its shares to be sold to Qatar or the UAE, is the only company from Turkey included in the list of the world’s top 100 arms exporters.
The process, which started with the fact that two UAVs were not sold to Turkey so that they would not be used against the PKK, enabled TAI in the public sector and Baykar in the private sector to produce weapons that could compete with the US unmanned aerial vehicles and steal the market.
Now the US is pleading with Turkey not to “sell” the drones so that the Ethiopian government does not use them against separatist forces. But on the other hand, it continues to impose sanctions on Turkey.
Don’t you think there is a profound contradiction here?