В previous article we raised the question of how drones became one of the main means of waging modern warfare. This was done through the prism of confrontation between Turkish UAVs and the Pantsir-C1 air defense system. In this article, the author will try to talk more about the practice and tactics of using shock drones as an example of conflicts in Syria and Libya, as well as analyze the possibilities of air defense to counter them.
Turkish UAVs in battles in Idlib
The contribution of the Turkish mid-altitude drones Bayraktar TB2 and Anka to the conflict in Idlib, of course, was decisive. Their use led to the loss of initiative by Assad troops and the disruption of their further offensive.
The main task of Turkish UAVs in Idlib was to scan the front line in order to provide real-time intelligence and adjust artillery fire both on positions and on Syrian columns along the front line and in the front line. On the basis of data obtained by drones, strikes were also made by Turkish air forces (without crossing borders). The result was the depletion of Syrian troops, constantly subjected to targeted strikes and deprived of full supply.
Turkish UAVs were also used to strike. Bayraktar TB2 with four missiles on the suspension can be in the air for more than 12 hours. They carried out constant duty in the air and, after identifying targets, quickly advanced to the front line for launching missiles. The reaction time was much longer than aviation, which made it possible to effectively hit targets accessible only in a narrow time corridor.
In Idlib, UAVs were also used by Turks to suppress air defense systems, in particular, due to the “patchwork” deployment of Syrian air defense systems, which made them vulnerable. Turkish ground-based EW stations and containers on Anka UAVs, according to the Turks, managed to “completely blind” the air defense systems of the air defense systems in Idlib, allowing Bayraktar TB2 to fly almost close to the “Shells” and shoot them at point-blank range. This information is not in doubt due to the fact that the radar from PFAR to Pantsir-C1 scans with only one beam and is vulnerable to electronic warfare equipment.
As a result of the fighting in Idlib, Turkey brought the use of drones to a new level. First, for the first time, shock drones were used against the regular army, not partisans. Secondly, for the first time they were used in large numbers, “squadrons”. The press called this tactic "swarms", and therefore erroneous assumptions appeared that did not mean the medium-high Bayraktar TB2 and Anka, but the kamikaze mini-drones (which were also involved). Thirdly, for the first time UAVs suppressed air defense systems. They turned from game into hunters, having suffered minimal losses in Syria: two Anka and three Bayraktar TB2. The Turks then fully applied all these innovations in Libya.
Chinese UAVs in the civil war in Libya
The first drone drones in Libya began to be used by supporters of Marshal Haftar. From the UAE, they delivered Chinese Wing Loong II UAVs (hereinafter referred to as WL II), which underwent significant refinement: they were equipped with Israeli OLS and Thales communications system.
The practical flight range of the WL II is up to 1 km, the ceiling is 500 m. Control is carried out by satellite from the UAE. These UAVs are used very actively and with a wide range of bombs and missiles. WL II can carry on the suspension up to 9 bombs and missiles with a total mass of up to 000 kg, including the Chinese "Jdam" Fei-Teng (FT). The WL II cannot use the FT-12 with a jet accelerator (range up to 480 km), like another Chinese UAV, CH-12, but it can carry the FT-150 with a launch range of up to 5 km. The LJ-7 ATGMs were actively used and plans were announced to provide the WL II with air-to-air missiles. To this UAV, Haftar was largely indebted to his successes.
WL II worked from the highest possible heights, inaccessible to air defense assets opposing the Haftaru armed forces of the Government of National Accord (hereinafter - PNS), therefore, from 2016 to August 2019, only two such machines were lost. The most successful operation of these UAVs was the destruction of the hangar with Turkish drones in the summer of 2019.
Everything changed when the Turks clearly appeared on the scene in Libya - at the end of 2019. They used Hisar and Hawk air defense systems, as well as Korkut air defense systems and Koral electronic warfare systems. The Turks managed to shoot down four WL IIs (as well as a couple of lightweight WL I strikers), including using the AWACS E-7 aircraft, the latest complex with radar with AFAR. By the way, the US Air Force will receive these aircraft only in 2035, which clearly shows the technological level of military equipment from the American arsenal available to the Turks. One cannot speak of any “backwardness” here. It is also symptomatic that for the fight against the "corncrackers" a whole Boeing was needed with modern electronics. According to the press, Chinese UAVs were shot down in Libya by Hisar air defense systems, a laser system and an electronic warfare station.
At the moment, WL II continues to be actively used by Haftar, and the Turkish air defense systems only created A2 / AD zones on the part of the territory controlled by the PNS and closed access there. Prior to this, Haftar UAVs flew everywhere and even appeared over the main strongholds of the PNS Tripoli and Misurata. WL II, because of their small number, were not massively used; attempts to suppress them by air defense systems are unknown.
Turkish UAV in Libya
The first Turkish strike UAVs came to Libya in the summer of 2019. These were Bayraktar TB2, ordered by Turkey's ally Qatar and then transferred to the PNS. They did not make a significant contribution to the course of the fighting, the turning point came only with the arrival of additional batches of these vehicles and the Turkish military. It was the massive, as in Idlib, introduction of Turkish UAVs into the battle (at the peak the UAV group could number up to 40 units) predetermined the outcome of the decisive battle for Tripoli.
During the fighting, Haftar’s forces lost a significant amount of Pantsir-C1 air defense systems destroyed by Bayraktar TB2, which, in turn, lost 19 units, which is certainly a lot compared to the Idlib campaign. The reason for the high losses is that, unlike Syria, Bayraktar TB2 was used in Libya without the support of Anka UAVs (with CREB and SAR radar) and in most cases also without the support of ground-based EW stations. The Turks had to delegate UAVs to destroy the identified targets (and, probably, simply to “attack”), which in Idlib often solved with the safe removal of artillery and aircraft. Successfully operating in Idlib self-propelled guns Firtina in Libya are very rarely captured in the frame, and the Sakarya MLRS were first noticed only recently. The Turks involved in Libya "limited contingent." Given these circumstances, the work of Bayraktar TB2 in Libya should be evaluated positively, especially since this is a lightweight drone with a limited range of weapons and its use in Libya limited the lack of satellite communications control. The Turks had to place repeaters on a very extensive theater. Due to the lack of such a “long arm” as the Chinese WL II, Bayraktar TB2 was sent to missile support missions at low altitudes so that they could not be detected by air defense systems. The result was loss of UAVs even from machine-gun fire. Tripoli was blocked by Haftar and surrounded by a chain of air defense systems, and the only Mitig airfield was attacked by WL II drones in an attempt to destroy Turkish UAVs that had to be launched from the highway. The Turks did not try to attack the air defense systems without the support of electronic warfare. Nevertheless, despite the losses, Bayraktar TB2 did its job, and as a result, the PNS forces broke through the ring and occupied Al-Vatiy base, from where WL II was launched). Here, the Turks took advantage of the holes in the air defense of the Haftar army and destroyed a large number of Pantsir air defense systems using UAVs. According to press reports, Turkish drones shot down in Libya the Pantsir air defense missile system, the MZA and the Israeli anti-UAV complex.
Anti-aircraft UAV capabilities
To analyze this issue, we will take the characteristics of the air defense systems available in the troops of the RF Armed Forces, and the characteristics of medium-altitude UAVs, their OLS and radar, we will set in the reference book “Introduction to modern electronic warfare systems” (DeMartino, Introduction to modern EW systems). The book is fresh, the second edition was published in 2018, but the technique is improving very quickly, and probably these numbers are somewhat outdated.
It should be noted right away that military air defense has serious limitations in countering UAVs. The reason for this is very simple: OLS and UAV radar can scan the surface and conduct ground targets at a considerable distance.
Using SAR radar, UAVs can scan from distances of 55 to 75 km, which allows UAV reconnaissance aircraft to comfortably barrage in the rear over the antennas of their ground-based electronic warfare stations. Unlike aviation, which occasionally appears in the air, UAVs can “hang” there constantly. Troops constantly need supplies, trucks go to the front lines, military equipment moves, and UAVs allow to control all these movements. In this situation, it does not matter which ESR the UAV has. You can take the EPR used in Idlib drone Anka in configuration with EW and radar containers for 4 square meters. m (according to data from the source mentioned above), and this will not affect the ability to destroy it. Even the Buk M55 (not to mention the Shell, Torah and older versions of the Buk) with missile range up to 3 km (taking into account the placement of the latter in the depths of defense , trajectories of missiles and EW). You can develop the idea further to the S-70V and even to the S-300, and then offer to use the SBN to dazzle the electronics of the “adversary,” but it is worth stopping in time. We are talking about confrontation at a tactical level. At the same time, the Buk M400 air defense system is in the army in the amount of several tens of PUs, and by the time it is purchased in large quantities, the enemy will already increase the capabilities of his equipment.
OLS UAVs can scan at a distance of up to 38 km (depends on the time of day, atmospheric interference, etc.). You can watch a video on Youtube where a Wescam station, similar to the one installed on Bayraktar TB2, captures and drives a column of smuggling trucks with a day camera at a distance of 20 km. The resolution is excellent and you can consider the smallest details. The range margin is clearly considerable.
It’s easier to bring down an optical reconnaissance UAV, because it must come closer to the front line. But this is also a difficult task, given the distance to the goal of tens of kilometers. Even if we accept the EPR entirely made of Bayraktar TB2 composites (configuration with OLS) for only 1 square meter. m (DeMartino’s book gives an average value of 1 sq. m for medium-altitude drones with OLS), it will not become an easy target, because it will be supported by the ground-based REB and CRAB UAVs from the depth of defense.
Light UAVs used to strike are the most vulnerable category for air defense, but it is by no means easy to bring them down. Light vehicles like Bayraktar TB2, when working along the front edge, can go at a low height (several hundred meters), while remaining invisible to the radar. At the front line they can be countered by Tunguska, Strela-10, Osa, MZA and MANPADS. Low-altitude flight is always a risk, and losses are inevitable here, but in some situations, such as in the case of Bayraktar TB2 in Libya, in the absence of other options, such a risk is inevitable and justified.
Unlike light ones, heavy strike UAVs can carry several EW containers and high-precision bombs with a long launch range (like the Chinese CH-5 mentioned above). The promising Turkish UAV Akinci has the ability to use both conventional MK-82 bombs equipped with the KGK ASELSAN kit, as well as high-precision ones, planning from a distance of up to 100 km, as well as KR with a launch range of up to 250 km. It’s extremely difficult to shoot down heavy UAVs with the help of air defense systems.
However, all these calculations relate only to the scenario of the limited use of drones, when the adversary phlegmatically watches his UAVs one at a time shooting down air defense systems. If the enemy acts decisively and uses UAVs in a massive, “squadron” manner, strives to destroy the air defense systems by creating a large numerical superiority, a number of problems arise, one of which is the limited air defense system of the air defense system. Here it is appropriate to recall the "Shell" destroyed in Syria, which has exhausted its BC. The situation is no better with anti-aircraft artillery systems, since the BK there is only enough for several tens of seconds of continuous fire. That is why in different countries laser installations are actively being developed to repel drone attacks.
To suppress air defense, an adversary during a massive attack can launch false targets with integrated ADM-160 electronic warfare, small-sized drones, fire radar with anti-radar missiles (HARM), and simply “bomb” together with groups of medium-altitude and high-altitude UAVs (including UAVs equipped with CRAB). Turkish F-16s in Idlib used bombs from a distance of 100 km. After spending the BC to destroy the air defense system is no problem. In this situation, attack drones can go at altitude, invulnerable to many air defense systems, for example, anti-aircraft artillery and MANPADS.
In the above conflicts involving UAVs, the Chinese WL II apparently “paid off” the fastest, because their cost before modernization did not exceed $ 2 million. Bayraktar TB2 cost the Republic of Turkey about 4 million (this includes ground equipment, and drones themselves are cheaper), which is also inexpensive compared to American "classmates". As a result, the cost of this model drones shot down in Libya is at the level of one fourth-generation fighter.
The operation of drones is also much cheaper than that of manned aircraft. For example, Bayraktar TB2 is equipped with a technologically simple and economical engine with a capacity of 100 hp, the cost of a flight hour is very low. For comparison: in the US Air Force, the flight hour of an MQ-1 UAV (with an engine similar in power) is 6 times cheaper than that of the F-16C.
In our opinion, it makes no sense to count how many UAVs were shot down or destroyed by air defense systems, and only the outcome of the battle is important. As a result, in Syria, Turkish drones deprived Assad of the initiative, and in Libya they were able to seize the initiative from the enemy completely
Attack UAVs came to the battlefield seriously and for a long time. It can be confidently stated that:
- UAVs will be used in large numbers with the support of electronic warfare, aviation and artillery, including against a high-tech enemy;
- SAMs alone can not solve the problem of fighting UAVs. Their capabilities can be significantly improved due to the use of electronic warfare stations, noise-protected radars with AFAR with full-scan multiple beams (and ideally with stealth mode LPI), both ground-based and on AWACS (capable of guiding missiles beyond the radio horizon), but all the same, it will not be able to completely neutralize the operation of an air defense UAV;
- the use of fighter manned aircraft to destroy drones will give an advantage to enemy aircraft and cannot be considered as an effective measure;
- any modern army cannot do without such a tool as mid-altitude and high-altitude strike drones, which give significant advantages to the side that uses them;
- the collision in the air of shock UAVs of the opposing sides will inevitably lead to the appearance of UAV fighters capable of destroying enemy drones. We can draw an analogy with the WWI, in front of which the planes were considered as reconnaissance and only during the fighting did fighters appear as a response to an obvious need. Even today, UAVs are equipped with powerful radars with AFAR, similar to fighter radars, and air-to-air missiles.