Russia not concerned over Turkish drone sales in eastern Europe - analyst

Despite the hype surrounding Turkey’s Bayraktar TB2 armed drones, there is little concern among Russian military experts over more eastern European countries adding the aerial vehicles to their arsenal, Aaron Stein wrote for the U.S.-based platform War on the Rocks on Friday.

The recent increase in sales to Poland and Ukraine, and interest from other countries, “has led a cadre of analysts to suggest that Ankara is using arms sales to contain Russia,” Stein said. “This is not the case.”

According to the analyst, although the drones are effective as a support for ground forces against adversaries without a proper air defence, they can be countered by a modern system. As such, Moscow has “concluded that it is not a threat to a high-end adversary operating a layered air defense with electronic jamming”, Stein said.

The TB2 has “won many admirers”, thanks to Turkey’s innovative way of producing propaganda videos with the onboard cameras, he said. “Turkey has pioneered drone use for the social media age, splicing together videos of the TB2’s kills and rapidly spreading these videos and imagery through semi-official social media accounts.”

The propaganda and the narrative it derives from have taken hold in Turkey itself, which may “actually shape perceptions” among the country’s security elite about “how Ankara should cooperate with its traditional Western allies,” Stein said.

Turkey’s fighter jet fleet mostly consists of aging F-16s, and the country was removed from the F-35 fifth-generation stealth fighter jet programme over its purchase of Russian-made systems that the United States deems a national security risk and a threat to NATO architecture. Efforts for a domestic fighter jet are on the way, but there is still a long way to go before the TF-X is ready to fly.

Turkey risks losing its air superiority within the next decade, and the TF-X probably won’t fully cover all the capabilities of the F-35, according to Sinan Ülgen, chairman of the Istanbul based think tank Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM).

The TB2, in the presence of air defence systems, “suffered a fairly high rate of attrition”, but “because of the drone’s low cost, Turkey was able to sustain a high operational tempo”, Stein said.

“In a peer-level conflict, drones like the TB2 are not survivable,” he added.

The TB2 “signals that the barriers to ‘skinny’ expeditionary operations have been lowered”, Stein said, and Washington “would be wise to update its assumptions about how middle-sized powers can now project force abroad and shape narrative in easy and straightforward ways.”