Future Turkish arsenal: the Aknc combat drone

Arguably the most innovative aspect of the Akıncı is its capability to use air-to-air missiles (AAMs), consisting of the indigenous Bozdoğan IR-guided AAM and the (fire-and-forget) Gökdoğan BVRAAM, which uses an active solid-state radar to guide itself towards its target. The Akıncı’s AESA radar should enable it to autonomously pick out its targets at great range, and then engage them with either to hunt enemy slow-flying aircraft, drones and helicopters and to guard other drones.

Though BVRAAM-armed Akıncıs would present a greater challenge than most air forces could hope to face, medium-range AAMs like the Bozdoğan could present a threat even to opposing fighter aircraft, being fast, very manoeuvrable (having off-boresight capabilities) as well as highly resistant to electronic countermeasures. Both of these missiles are currently still in development, and will likely take several years before complete integration on the Akıncı platform.

Another feature is the ability to carry several variants of the SOM family of cruise missiles designed to be used against enemy command posts, SAM sites, ships or any other target that requires a precision hit with a 230kg heavy explosive warhead.

Though two variants of this family were designed specifically to be used against naval vessels, the range of the much smaller MAM-T already exceeds the air defence systems on all but four of the Greek navy’s ships. Though those are unlikely to be used in that role, this fact shows how swiftly the capabilities UCAVs and the precision-guided munitions they can carry have grown in the past decades.

Once in active service, the Bayraktar Akıncı will herald a new chapter in unmanned warfare – whether by firing cruise missiles at enemy targets from well within friendly airspace, destroying underground bunkers with NEB-84 penetrator bombs, bringing armoured columns to a grinding halt with up to 24 MAM-L munitions, targeting enemy air defence systems well outside of their range or by shooting down enemy aircraft, UAVs and helicopters. The variety in weapon loadouts means the Akıncı can easily be repurposed to carry out other tasks during the same (day-long) mission, allowing greater flexibility in operations than any drone of the past.

For countries interested in buying the Akıncı the fact that all the munitions (and their guidance kits) used for these tasks can be sourced directly from Turkey will surely be appreciated as well. Furthermore, the fact that the new UCAV adheres to the NATO standards for munitions means that NATO countries can integrate other or local manufactured munitions on the Akıncı.

This does not extend to NATO countries only, and countries that are currently developing their own precision-guided munitions such as Azerbaijan and Pakistan can expect relatively simple integration (or even Turkish support with doing so) with the Akıncı. Its attractiveness to foreign customers might be precisely what ensures the Akıncı’s success, escaping the fate of a number of promising UCAV designs the world over that were ultimately only produced in scarce numbers. As such, it may well soon secure its role as one of the most significant upheavals in the annals of unmanned warfare.

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