Turkish-made autonomous drones have become all the rage in the defence sector. Here's what makes them so unique.
Turkey's loitering munitions have become one of the most potent symbols of the country's air power as they are capable of neutralising enemy targets in risky warfares.
The Turkish defence sector has seen four types of autonomous drones — Kargu-2, Alpagu, Togan and Simsek — manufactured by various companies.
These drones stand out in the Turkish war inventory as they can operate autonomously in GPS-free environments. They have the ability to lock on targets using computer algorithms rather than taking commands from the operator sitting elsewhere. They can charge at enemy installations at a high speed and detonate their warheads.
In March 2020, the Kargu-2 drones were deployed to Libya to launch 'swarm attacks' against warlord Khalifa Haftar's militias. The moment has been marked as the first drone attack using artificial intelligence (AI), in which no human was involved remotely, according to the UN Security Council's report on Libya.
Speaking to TRT World, Ankara-based defence expert, Merve Seren, said Turkey has achieved a major breakthrough in the Libyan battlefield with the successful launch of fully autonomous drones.
"Autonomous drones provide an operational advantage during the conflicts," said Seren, who teaches International Relations at Ankara Yildirim Beyazit University.
Defense Technologies and Trade Inc. (STM), a Turkish company that manufactures Kargu-2 drones and supplies them to the Turkish military, told the media last year that their drones also have facial recognition technology, which gives a major advantage to the Turkish security forces in identifying individual targets so they could be neutralised without deploying forces on the ground.
Murat Ikinci, the former CEO of STM, was quoted in Turkish media in 2019 as saying that the main advantages of Karagu-2 swarms is that their sheer number can overwhelm targets and they can evade the GPS jammers.
According to the UN report, the Kargu-2 attack in Libya had achieved the desired results. Heavy military installations, convoys and hordes of mercenaries and armed personnel working for Haftar were "hunted down and remotely engaged by lethal autonomous weapons systems such as the STM Kargu-2".
"The lethal autonomous weapons systems were programmed to attack targets without requiring data connectivity between the operator and the munition: in effect, a true 'fire, forget and find' capability," the report reads.
"In the modern world, priority should be given to the protection of intellectual and physical human capital which means a lighter workload on military personnel," Merve Seren said.
According to Seren, access to superior technology like Kargu-2 drones has helped the Turkish military to prevent civilian casualties.
"Turkey has a very clear and successful history of using drones to avoid civilian casualties," she said.
Pinpointing enemy targets with precision have become one of the main hallmarks of Turkish drones. Their appropriate use in Syria and the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict proved that they can minimize collateral damage.
Besides attacking, these kamikaze-style drones — Kargu-2, Alpagu, Togan and Simsek — can also carry out intelligence-gathering missions, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance.
They can attack targets in areas where there was no mobile data or Internet connectivity between the operator and the warhead.
Turkey's success in producing high-calibre drones comes on the heels of its national policy of becoming self-sufficient in defence manufacturing. According to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the country had 62 defence projects in 2002 and by 2020 the figure has grown to 700, along with the annual defence budget, which has increased from $5.5 billion to $60 billion.