Libya’s air space is filled with Chinese and Turkish drones, Russian MiGs and Sukhoi 24s, and Emirati Mirage 2000s, and soon to join the fight are Turkish F-16s and Egyptian Rafaels, writes Tom Kingston of DefenseNews. In short, Libya has been transformed into what seems like an air warfare laboratory and there are lessons to be learned here.
Since May 2019 Turkey has used Libyan air space to fly its TB2 drone, and it’s been a game changer, pushing back Haftar’s forces and knocking out Russian air defenses. Turkey has boosted its TB2’s effectiveness and capabilities with new software and lessons learned in the skies over Libya. Tom Kingston writes abridged:
The conflict in lawless Libya began to escalate in April 2019 as local strongman Gen. Khalifa Haftar launched his campaign to take the capital Tripoli. Backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Russia and France, he felt confident going up against the U.N.-recognized government in Tripoli backed by Turkey, Italy and Qatar.
In April last year, Chinese Wing Loong II drones operated by the UAE bombed civilian targets in the city, reflecting the recent and rapid procurement of Chinese drones around the Middle East.
“The Chinese have been adept at selling drones in the Middle East, including to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Iraq. With the U.S. previously constrained in selling systems, the Chinese saw a gap in the market,” Barrie said.
Turkey has proved the exception. Around May 2019, it introduced its own TB2 drone into the fray, attacking Haftar’s forces, knocking out Russian Pantsir air defense systems supporting him and helping end his ambitions to take Tripoli.
“Turkey has majored in UAV design and manufacture and likely used Libya in part as a test-and-adjust battle lab, and its systems are now ‘combat proven’. Its industry, like Roketsan, has also developed small, precision-guided munitions for UAVs,” Barrie said.
A second analyst said Turkey’s use of its TB2 in Libya had been a game changer. “Turkey decided it was OK to lose them from time to time, that they were semi-disposable, and that novel approach caught their enemy off guard,” said Jalel Harchaoui of the Clingendael Institute in Holland.
The reason? Cost. “They used to cost the Turks $1-1.5 million apiece to build, but thanks to economies of scale as production volumes rose, the cost has dropped to below $500,000, excluding the control station,” Harchaoui explained.
He added that software and other technical changes boosted the TB2′s efficiency and reconnaissance capabilities, which allowed them to find the right altitude to avoid the Russian Pantsir systems.
“The performance of the Wing Loong IIs in the hands of the UAE has meanwhile been largely static. They didn’t evolve, so they have been much less impressive,” he said.
Barrie said Libya is also an example of the normalization of drone use in modern warfare.