ANKARA, Turkey — The Turkish-made TB-2 drone made headlines around the world due to its effectiveness against Russian forces and ground systems in Ukraine. Now, Turkey's defense industry is aiming to repeat this success story with unmanned ground vehicles.
Several local companies are already developing unmanned ground vehicles in the hopes their products will be combat-proven by the Turkish military, which would make these systems more attractive on the foreign market.
"This is an almost endless market given Turkey's [unmanned] technological capabilities and the future requirements of the militaries particularly in the Middle East, Caucasus, Africa and Asia," according to a presidential aide whose portfolio includes the local defense industry. He spoke to Defense News on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
Katmerciler, which specializes in anti-riot vehicles, is one private business seeking a foothold in the unmanned market. In partnership with military electronics specialist Aselsan, Turkey's largest defense firm, Katmerciler won a Turkish government contract Jan. 3 to develop and produce the Tunga, a medium-weight, tracked unmanned ground vehicle.
The hybrid-powered Tunga can operate for up to six hours, plus another hour and a half with its battery. The multipurpose system can carry weapons and ammunition, and its design allows for maneuverability in urban areas.
"This will be the first vehicle of its kind to enter the inventory of the Turkish military," Fahrettin Akpak, head of Katmerciler's research and development department, told the media in August. "In addition, we are assessing export opportunities."
Another private company, Otokar, has developed Turkey's first heavyweight unmanned vehicle. The stealthy Alpar can carry a payload of up to 15 tons, and the company says it built the vehicle to minimize personnel loss and human deployment to the battlefield.
The remote-controlled vehicle, which can also carry a miniature unmanned ground vehicle inside its body, was made for reconnaissance, fire support, logistical support and anti-tank warfare missions. Its electric engine has a maximum range of 50 kilometers (31 miles). In hybrid mode, it can operate for up to 500 kilometers.
"UGVs have gained special prominence in countries like Turkey that face asymmetrical warfare threats. Such vehicles will be used in greater numbers as part of network-centric warfare concept," according to independent defense industry analyst Kaner Kurt.
Indeed, Turkish military planners are interested in operating multidomain drone swarms. In August, the government-controlled military software company Havelsan said it successfully tested this concept, which demonstrated interoperability between two Baha sub-cloud — or low-altitude — unmanned aerial vehicles; two Barkan unmanned ground vehicles; and a swarm consisting of five drones.
"In 2020, the design and development studies of the unmanned ground vehicle Barkan were conducted, the first power supply was provided and the first run was conducted at the end of the year. In the same year, the first design and development studies of the Baha sub-cloud unmanned aerial vehicle began, and the first test flight of Baha was conducted five months later," Havelsan told Defense News.
The company's CEO, Mehmet Akif Nacar, said the test also showed "how UAVs could perform reconnaissance, track targets and direct UGVs to the designated targets."
Havelsan has already delivered the Barkan to the Turkish military. The company also has plans to deliver the Baha to the government, though that timetable is unknown.
"The idea is to sell [export] aerial and ground vehicles operated as a single unit," Nacar said, noting a Central Asian country has shown interest in the Baha, which would be the vehicle's second export contract. He did not identify the first customer.
The Middle Eastern, African and Central Asian markets have shown interest in the Baha and Kapgan, Nacar added, and "we are working on integrating different payload demands from different [potential] buyers."
The Kapgan is an unmanned ground vehicle with a speed exceeding 25 kph (16 mph). The vehicle can operate for six hours, perform autonomous patrol missions and features a 30mm gun.
"Could the Turkish industry repeat the success story it has had in aerial systems in land systems? I think the answer is a cautious 'yes,' " an Ankara-based expert on unmanned systems told Defense News on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the topic. "The most critical point is whether the local industry will achieve the aerial cost efficiency in land systems too. That, we don't know. But initial signs are quite promising."
Tayfun Ozberk in Mersin, Turkey, contributed to this report.
Burak Bekdil is an Ankara-based political analyst and the Charles Wax Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum.