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Turkey’s Drone Warfare

Indian Army Chief comments and backdrop

Words of Army Chief General M.M. Naravane “military icons of the 20th century, like tanks and fighter aircraft, were on their way out the same way the “Sony Walkman” was made redundant by newer technologies to hear music”, were not only based on the recurring confirmation on next evolution of warfare, however on very recent display of the same, around 2500 miles west of our borders.

Yes, we are on about the Syrian conflict where Turkey and Russia are having a face-off, albeit in masquerade.

Syrian Conflict

Russia Turkey Battleground

The linked Russian political-military initiative in Syria, with a bombing campaign from 2015, in support of Iranian-Hezbollah-Syrian military ground offensives, and convening of many international conferences to try and secure the Assad regime, is in contrary to the manner in which Turkey has been playing the ISIS and Syrian rebels, taking the converse side. Muddle is very difficult to decipher, however worth the try.

In spring-summer 2015, Russia and Iran pursued an initiative for high-level international talks, aimed at keeping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, or at least elements of his regime in place as part of a political transition in Syria. The effort was blocked by Saudi Arabia in mid-August, as its Foreign Minister said, at a press conference following talks in Moscow, that no negotiations could proceed while Assad was in power.

The Russian intervention then expanded Turkey’s front line political-military involvement, threatening Turkish interests given their aspirations in the region, particularly after the Turkish downing of a Russian warplane near the Turkish-Syrian border in 2015 and many such behind the scene shadowboxing. Saudi Arabia was also stepping up its involvement as the supporter of Assad’s opponents, both publicly through the attempt to foster an opposition rebel bloc, and privately through supplies to rebel factions. Iran’s investment and costs from the conflict have accompanied Russia’s intervention, particularly through the injection of front line commanders like Soleimani including clandestinely using troops. Iran’s leadership of Hezbollah units and foreign militias, and its diplomatic insistence on Assad’s retention of power is known.

Drone offensive of Turkey

After a decade of war, Syrian Army, at last, looked to be learning better tactics. Instead of sending lone tanks racing through the hills behind rebels, some units fighting in Idlib, the last rebel held province, have worked together with columns of tanks backed by infantry.

Since last year grainy footage has shown those tanks being pulverized from overhead, their crews helpless to fight back. Long accustomed to squaring off with ill equipped rebels, Assad’s army is unexpectedly battling the second largest army in NATO, the Turks. The clash began on 27 February when an airstrike on a Turkish convoy killed 36 soldiers, the deadliest attack on Turkish troops in more than two decades.

Headlines go Russian military shoots down a drone approaching Khmeimim Air Base from Med Sea. “The flying object came close to the military facility late on Monday”, Russia’s Defence Ministry has said. The drone was supposedly shot down by a Pantsir-S anti-aircraft system before it reached the premises of the base and it did not inflict any materiel damage or casualties.

 

Earlier in the day, Syrian state media reported that at least two drones, launched by the anti-government militants, approached Khmeimim airbase and got destroyed by its defences. “The origin of the drone has not been established yet” a spokesperson said.

However, it’s a known fact that Turkey has chosen to respond to Syria with a barrage of drone strikes and artillery that have dealt Assad’s regime its worst blow in years. Even saying that this has put Putin on a defensive, will not be an understatement.

The Turkish military’s devastating display of power against the Syrian army last week since earlier this year, which saw the destruction of hundreds of regime tanks, artillery pieces and armored vehicles, came from a cheap but effective domestic drone program that NATO officials accept, has changed the military equation against Russia in Syria’s Idlib Province.

India’s Perspective

Turkey’s offensive was conducted with about 100 domestically produced drones, launching cheap guided munitions with deadly efficiency. By domestically producing them with commercially available technology, they managed to build a very large and effective fleet far more cheaply than purchasing them from the US or other countries. This indigenous programme was a result of US policies restricting sales of armed drone technology to Turkey, out of concerns, the technology would be used on Kurdish targets. If Darkweb rumors are to be believed, the same has been effected by working in collusion with Chinese drone program.

Given the recent defence cooperation between China, Pakistan, and Turkey, it shall be safe to assume that this effective warfare strategy is understood and lessons taken in same breath. India has numerical air superiority against Pakistan and a geo-strategic one against China. However, this is rendered ineffective, especially against Pakistan, where this numerical advantage can be easily subverted. Hence a higher attrition rate shall be accepted viz the cost-benefit ratio.

Understandably, compared to a soldier well dug in, a tank shall be cheaply annihilated, just as the Syrian armored troops discovered very recently.

Viewpoint

Like Turkish drones, which are cheap and not as accurate as Western technology, Chinese technology has its limitations, especially when precision is in question. However swarming the battlefield with cheap drones, while accepting a higher attrition rate, may not be bad policy and strategy.

In longer run, given the short span of warfare expected out in the region, it is the very direction, our adversary, one in western border and the other also in western border and Indian Ocean( or should we better call it the Indo-Pacific), they will be proceeding in.

Answer lies in preparing in a similar way, to counter/contain this very potent threat, which is here sooner and in bigger proportions than expected. Surely for India, traditional Aircraft warfare stands recalculated, Armored concept shrunk and Anti Drone Electronic Warfare and Missile Defense System now an non argumentative essential.

12 Mar 20/Thursday                                                                                                          Written By: Fayaz

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