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Unmanned Vehicles

UCAV developments dovetail with evolving Turkish Navy operational concepts

19th May 2021 - 15:38 GMT | by Tayfun Özberk in Istanbul

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Bayraktar TB2 dropping MAM-L. (Photo: Baykar)

Turkish naval tactics are on the cusp of change by applying UCAV stand-off attack capabilities.

Progress in domestic UAV production is aiding efforts by the Turkish Navy to develop CONOPS involving UCAVs. 

The navy first applied a form of manned-unmanned teaming in March during the Blue Homeland exercise, when a Bayraktar TB2 UCAV hit a training target with MAM-L smart micromunition from the maximum range (15km).

This was the first time the Turkish Navy used a UCAV to hit a sea target in close cooperation with crewed assets.

Another guided-munition test firing occurred in the Black Sea on 25 April, involving an Aksungur MALE UCAV from Turkish Aerospace Industries.

Selected specifications from Shephard Defence Insight for Turkish UCAVs.

Available data suggests that Aksungur is the Turkish-made UCAV with the highest payload capacity and longest mission endurance. It carried out the live firing at 20,000ft altitude and hit the naval target successfully with a KGK-SIHA-82 guided munition at a range of 30km. 

This was the first time Aksungur UCAV carried and launched the KGK-SIHA-82 with a wing-assisted guidance kit and 340kg warhead.  It was also the first time that Aksungur engaged a naval target.

'We continue on our way with determination. Our UCAVs have been getting stronger with the test fires of new ammunition,' Ismail Demir, head of the Turkish Presidency of Defense Industries, tweeted after the 25 April event.

Meanwhile, Baykar has been trialling its Akinci UCAV, which can operate at 40,000ft altitude and launch the indigenous SOM-J anti-ship missile with a range of 250km (potentially giving the Turkish Navy a considerable degree of stand-off hitting power).

Aksungur carrying KGK-SIHA-82. (Photo: SSB)

UCAV developments seem to offer new possibilities for the Turkish Navy to deal with hostile fast attack craft (FAC) and corvettes in the littoral waters of the Aegean Sea. In littoral warfare, FACs would approach very close to the Aegean islands as a countermeasure against RF- or IR-guided anti-ship missiles (because most of these missiles cannot distinguish between a ship and an island if the two objects are very close to each other).

Generally, attack helicopters would be employed to engage such FACs because these craft have weak air defence capabilities. However, the integration of UCAVs with naval warfare (particularly littoral warfare) would mean that small surface combatants can be neutralised without entering the stand-off range of their air defence weapons.

UCAVs offer the prospect of tactical elasticity by conducting high-risk missions without risking the lives of pilots. Increasing the firepower and endurance of these unmanned platforms is set to change naval warfare tactics.

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