Turkey’s Defense Industry has been through pioneering and promising developments over the last two decades. The latest signs of Ankara’s cutting-edge defense technologies have been aptly showcased in two different instances, where the technological novelties in the defense industry field fully aligned with the Turkish geopolitical goals abroad.
The wide use of Turkish drone technology in Libya and Artsakh, have been literally game-changers, tipping the balance in favor of the Turkish allies — the Government of National Accord (GNA) and Baku, respectively — and helping achieve the operational and strategic goals of both sides. After displaying the strategic gains and leverage that Turkish drones could provide in modern warfare, Ankara is now promoting the latest features of domestically-produced anti-drone systems.
Drones are Reshaping the Modern Battlefield – and Anti-Drone Tech is Crucial
Drone technologies have essentially reshaped the modern battlefield. Following the extensive deployment of US drones within the scope of anti-terrorist operations worldwide, the use of drones emerged as an accurate and effective method to neutralize targets, without risking the safety of military personnel.
An ample modus operandi at a much lower cost, when considering the total budget behind a combat pilot, a jet fighter and the necessary components or a fully operational Special Forces Task Force. The massive use of modified drones from ISIS cells in Iraq and Syria in since 2014, projected the asymmetric nature of this technology, as commercial drones – after the appropriate amendments – have been used as a very cheap weapon, able to seriously harm or totally destroy critical infrastructure and personnel.
Turkey was fast enough to realize the significance of this novel reality in the defense and security affairs and aggressively invest in a domestic Turkish drone industry. The active Turkish engagement in the two aforementioned conflicts further emphasized the advantages of the drones in the battlefield; but simultaneously their critical role in the developments of the ground highlighted the importance of an integrated and functional drone-defense solution.
The success of Turkish-built drones in Libya and Azerbaijan have eventually strengthened the position of the country’s industry, securing their reputation as a drone warfare expert. A particular point of attention in the anti-drone systems is that the cost and operational functions of the defense mechanisms should be proportionate to the threat, otherwise any Counter Unmanned Aircraft Systems (CUAS) would not be financially and logistically viable. Ankara has timely and fully comprehended this necessary condition.
Turkey’s Strategic Vision and the IHA-MAX Deal with Albania and Qatar
The Antalya-based National War Technologies Defense Systems Inc. (Ulusal Harp Teknolojileri Savunma Sistemleri A.Ş.) is a private Turkish company, founded in 1996, specializing in electronic warfare and defense anti-access systems. Lately the company has been exclusively working on anti-drone solutions.
In terms of marketing Ulusal is moving smartly; following the unparalleled success of the Turkish-designed and manufactured Bayraktar TB2 drone, Ulusal is looking to capitalize on the name that Turkey has built in the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) security environment, through developing and promoting reliable and cost-effective Anti-Drone and CUAS solutions. Ulusal is also counting on another parameter; from the research and development phase, to the production and distribution of their systems, the company is solely relying on Turkish technologies, know-how, software tools, personnel, and equipment.
This aspect also brings them further toward enhancing the potential of the company in the domestic market. It is also fully in line with President Recep Erdogan’s strategic vision. Erdogan not only wants a self-sufficient Turkish Defense Industry, but is also determined to increase the export of Turkish-built defense and security systems abroad.
One of the latest Ulusal products in the Anti-drone/CUAS category is the IHA-MAX Drone Repellent; with less than 4.5 kg and compact dimensions, this anti-drone device is fully portable and can be easily operated by one individual. The range of IHA-MAX can cover up to 1.5 km; considering that Ulusal has announced that the device is supposed to be used for security or law enforcement operations in urban environments, the range is more than adequate. However, considering the long-battery life of IHA-MAX (up to 30 days on standby), its easy portability and the ability to function in extreme temperatures (from -25°C to +65°C) it highly likely that that the device could easily fit in a special operations team in a war theatre in the near future.
Turkish progress in the drone/anti-drone industry has not gone unnoticed in the international scene. Recently Albania and Qatar reached a deal with Ankara and will soon integrate IHA-MAX in their security forces. It should be noted here that according to the Turkish Law the security and defense patents are subject to state regulations, with the Ministry of Defense being responsible to allow private entities selling such equipment abroad. After IHA-MAX was used for a given period of time by the Turkish Armed Forces and Turkish state agencies, the first export deals have also now been completed.
Gaining Political Leverage Through Defense Deals
The countries that Ankara selected for the first exports of the device have were not randomly chosen. Turkey traditionally holds strong ties with Albania; the intensification of the Greek-Turkish relations over disputes in the Aegean Sea constitutes a worrying situation, which has been only deteriorating since the summer. At the same time, even though the Albanian-Greek relations are rather normal over the last decades, the historical debate between the two countries around the Greek minority in Northern Epirus is always looming.
Hence in a possible Greek-Turkish escalation, Ankara could be looking to Tirana as a potential ally. Albanian-Turkish cooperation on defense and security issues could be perceived as a well-played maneuver by Erdogan to boost Turkey’s strategic depth in the Balkans.
In the case of Qatar, Ankara is dealing with a vital allying force able to assist the Turkish economy in a time of significant pressure. The recent groundbreaking developments in the Middle East, with some of the Sunni landmark monarchies re-establishing relations with Israel also open the road to Ankara to come out as the only reliable power to support Islamic interests in the Middle East and North Africa. The fact that Qatar is at odds with all these regional powers further increases the Turkish motives for multi-dimensional cooperation with Doha.