Turkey's swarming 'suicide' drones could be a game changer - analyst

The Turkish military plans to buy more than Turkish-made 500 Kargu loitering munitions, or suicide drones, that can carry out mass attacks as a swarm of up to 20, which could give Ankara a game-changing battlefield capability, an analyst writing for The Drive said. 

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reported on Monday that the Turkish company Defence Technologies Engineering and Trade Inc. (STM), was expecting to deliver the hundreds of drones to the Turkish armed forces. 

Jospeth Trevithick, writing for The Drive, said it is not clear whether this total order for "over 500" of the drones is part of a purchase agreement for 356 Kargus that the Turkish government itself announced earlier this year.

STM introduced the first generation Kargu in 2017 and the Turkish military first began receiving small numbers of the improved Kargu-2 version last year, Trevithick said.

The drones have been engineered specifically for anti-terror and asymmetric warfare scenarios, and were reportedly deployed by Turkish forces during operations along the country's border with Syria last year.

Last year, STM announced it was working to give the Kargu drones additional autonomy and the ability to work together in large swarms. 

“The swarming technology is in development as part of a larger Turkish government programme known as Kerkes, which is also looking to develop systems to improve the ability of drones to operate in GPS-denied environments, something that is increasingly a very real threat,” Trevithick said. 

Trevithick said that even being able to launch rudimentary massed attacks with up to 20 of the drones at a time would offer a significant boost in capability.

“Swarms by their very nature can confuse and overwhelm an opponent's defences, even those belonging to major militaries, causing havoc even if a significant number of them get shot down before they can reach their targets,” he said. 

The Kargus appear to be a relatively low-cost option, and the swarming technology may be applicable to other drones. STM could seek to export them, proliferating the technology further afield. The swarming Kargu is adding to Turkey’s reputation as a major developer in drone technology and production.

The Turkish military has employed other types of drones with success in Syria and Libya this year.

Trevithick said that the development of this new drone technology should be a “wake-up call” to the threat posed by low-end drones to U.S. and its allies. 

“The Kargus, and their future swarming capabilities, could very well become the next major Turkish drone success story, for better or worse,” he said.