Turkey’s unprecedented ascent to drone superpower status

  • In this special Long Read, guest writer Samuel Brownsword lays out the rise of Turkey as a drone superpower, as well as its increasing use of armed drones, both within and without its borders.
President Erdogan poses with Bayraktar drone

In late February 2020, at least 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in an airstrike in Syria’s Idlib province which Ankara blamed on the government of President Bashar al-Assad, although many suspected that it was in fact carried out by Russian forces.  At the time, those monitoring events in Syria feared that the attack could trigger a direct confrontation between Turkey and Russia, a supporter of Assad. Events leading up to this incident had already strained relations between the two countries and threatened to rupture defence, energy, and trade links. However, Ankara’s response not only marked the beginning of a new stage in the Syrian civil war, but yet another escalation in global drone warfare.  Read more

A bloody month in the drone wars: 7 separate drone strikes kill dozens of civilians across 4 war zones

November 2019 saw seven civilian casualties incidents from drone strikes in four different war-zones illustrating the growing spread of drone warfare. The seven strikes between them are thought to have killed  41 civilians including 11 children.

Proponents of the use of armed drones often argue that drones are better at warfare as they can  sit above the ‘fog and friction’ of war and therefore limit the harm to civilians as they have a better view of the ground.  The reality, however, is that drones appear to be transferring the risk of warfare away from combatants onto the shoulders of civilians.

These seven strikes in the month of November are just a snapshot of the impact of drone warfare on civilians.  However, the likelihood is that civilians will continue to be killed unless there is progress at the international level on controlling the proliferation and use of armed drones. Read more

UK drones more likely to target individuals than infrastructure data analysis reveals

Drone video showing ISIS fighter with children in Iraq.*

Examination of UK air strike data from the past two years shows that British unmanned drones have been used far more often to attack individuals on the ground in Iraq and Syria than the UK’s other strike aircraft, the Tornado or the Typhoon.

Analysis of reports published by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) over the two years up until September 2019 show Reaper drones launched two-thirds (67%) of the 110 strikes at ISIS fighters in the open while other aircraft were used far more often to launch attacks on buildings, fighting positions, strong-points and other infrastructure. Half of all UK Reaper attacks (51%) were targeted at individuals on the ground compared to only 10% of Tornado and Typhoon strikes. Altogether, Reapers launched 29% of the UK’s strikes in this two-year period.

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UK ops in Iraq and Syria: Reaper drones likely to play an increasing part says senior RAF officer

The latest response to our Freedom of Information requests on British air and drone operations in Iraq and Syria show a marked decline in UK air and drone strikes in Syria since December 2018. (See our stats page for full update) Altogether, British drones and manned aircraft fired 189 missiles and bombs in the final three months of 2018 compared with 69 in the first three months of 2019 – a drop of 63%. Read more

Latest FoI release from MoD shows extent of UK air and drone war in Syria

The rise in UK air and drone strikes in Syria since September 2018 has been laid bare in the MoD’s latest responses to a Drone Wars UK FoI request. The number of British strikes in Syria per month rose to its highest ever amount (75) in December 2018. Overall, the UK launched 244 air and drone strikes in Iraq and Syria during 2018, firing 512 munitions. Between 2014 and the end of 2018, the UK has fired more than 4,100 missiles and bombs in a total of 1,925 strikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.  You can see the details on our stats page here. Read more

The Gatwick drone: A taste of the technology

Drones dominated the headlines over the Christmas and New Year period after sightings of one or more commercially available drones closed Gatwick airport to flights for 2½ days, disrupting thousands of passengers. The inability of the authorities to track down the drone operator led to ministers calling in the military with counter-drone technology to give assurances to air operators that it was safe to re-open the airport. This week, Heathrow was also closed for an hour due to the presence of a small drone.

While many newspapers mocked the alleged incompetence of the authorities in not dealing with the situation simply and swiftly, the reality is that drones are a disruptive technology. The ability to use remote-controlled systems to intervene at distance with little or no consequences to the operator is perhaps now coming home to roost. Read more