As you are probably aware by now, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have taken a significant spot in the limelight in recent years as a critical tool in military operations around the world. These remote aircraft, also known as drones, offer a range of advantages over traditional human-crewed aircraft, including greater flexibility, endurance, and cost-effectiveness. As a result, many countries have invested heavily in drone technology, seeking to develop increasingly advanced and sophisticated models that can support a range of military missions. From reconnaissance and surveillance to combat and logistics, drones have proven to be an increasingly valuable asset in modern warfare, and their use is likely to continue to grow in the years to come.
Turkey marks a new milestone as it successfully conducted the first tandem flight test of its state-of-the-art unmanned jet-engined “Kizilelma” combat aircraft and “Akinci” high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) drone.
The Turkish unmanned aircraft Kızılelma and Akıncı drone performed a flight in formation. pic.twitter.com/uNWXNeMIED
— International Defence Analysis (@Defence_IDA) April 26, 2023
Both drones were developed domestically by Baykar (officially Selçuk Bayraktar). They showcased an autonomous flight, each taking off at the Akinci Flight Training and Test Center near the capital city before assembling in a close formation and together navigating through the airspace of the Çorlu district.
The milestone indicated significant progress in Ankara’s quest to seek capable unmanned drones that can reliably provide combat support to its Turkish military in future operations.
Homegrown Turkish Drones
Turkey has been actively pursuing the development of sophisticated military drones in a collaborative effort between Baykar and the Turkish government in recent years and has achieved significant success in this field. Driven by a desire to increase its armed forces fighting and defense capabilities, Ankara also strives to reduce its reliance on foreign suppliers, particularly now more than ever, in light of ongoing arms struggles in Ukraine and Russian aggression.
The Kizilelma, or the Bayraktar Kizilelma, is the latest drone among the two featured aerial platforms developed by Baykar. It is an unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) designed for use in military operations, with its development beginning in 2019.
Reportedly, the Kizilelma used the same base as Baykar’s earlier drone, called the Bayraktar TB2 drone, which already has made a significant impact on the battlefield. Its primary designer aimed for the jet-engined former to be able to carry out a range of missions. Since launching the Bayraktar Kizilelma project, it has successfully produced two prototypes and is currently in the development and production phase, according to the company’s press release.
Baykar introduced three Kizilelma variants during Teknofest 2022, all fitted with different engine configurations developed in a joint venture with Ukraine: Kizilelma–A, Kizilelma–B, and Kizilelma-C. The Kizilelma-A drone’s AI-25TLT engine can achieve near-supersonic speeds with 16.9 kilonewtons (3,790 lbs) thrust without afterburners. The Kizilelma-B drone, on the other hand, features a single Ukrainian AI-322F engine that can generate a supersonic speed of up to 44 kN (9,900 lbs) thrust with the afterburner engaged.
Furthermore, Baykar reportedly fitted the third variant with two AI-322F engines, which will also generate supersonic speeds like the B variant.
The fighter drone, specifically the Kizilelma-B, has a maximum endurance range of about five hours at an operational ceiling of 40,000 feet (12,192 meters), measuring a length of 48.25 ft (14.7 m) and a wingspan of 32.83 ft (10 m). The aircraft has a takeoff weight of 8.5 tons (8,500 kilograms) and a payload capacity of 1,500 kg (3,300 pounds) equipped with a high situational awareness Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar developed by Aselsan which will allow the platform to launch Bozdogan (beyond visual range) and Gokdogan (short range) air-to-air missiles using artificial intelligence.
The Kizilelma’s cutting-edge low radar cross-section gives Turkish operators a significant advantage in low-visibility environments, revolutionizing the battlefield. Its ability to take off and land on ships with short runways enhances the UCAV’s flexibility and operational capability.
The public will be able to glimpse the Kizilelma drone at this year’s Teknofest held at Atatürk Airport from April 27 to May 1. Meanwhile, Baykar announced its plans to mass-produce the aircraft by 2024.
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The Akinci drone, on the other hand, is a UCAV platform developed by Baykar to perform air-to-air and air-to-ground attack missions and has been around nearly the same development timeframe as the Kizilelma fighters.
Furthermore, Bayraktar Akinci is a HALE drone capable of carrying a variety of weapons and employing a range of sensors, including synthetic aperture radar (SAR), high-definition (HD) electro-optical (EO) cameras, and electronic warfare (EW) systems. It has undergone several successful test flights before its induction with the Turkish Armed Forces in 2021.
This HALE aircraft is larger and more versatile than the Kizilelma with a wingspan of 65.62 ft (20 m) and a length of 41.01 ft (12.5 m) and is likewise equipped to carry out intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions in addition to its other advanced combat roles, thereby capable of flying up to 24 hours, though depends on the payload. It has two Ukrainian-made AI-450T turboprop engines and can operate up to 40,000 ft (12,192 m) in altitudes and a maximum speed of about 195 knots (224 mph).
Watch the recent close formation flight test below.
Nonetheless, both drones fill in the gaps each lacks, with Akinci offering a versatile platform capable of operating over longer distances. At the same time, the Kizilelma specializes in short-range capable of close-combat strikes, making the duo a promising autonomous tandem.
In conclusion, Turkey’s successful tandem flight test of the Kizilelma combat drone and Akinci HALE drone marks a significant milestone in the country’s pursuit of developing sophisticated military drones. With the ability to perform a range of missions and equipped with cutting-edge technology, these drones are likely to be valuable assets in future military operations.
As Turkey continues to invest in drone technology, it will be interesting to see how they will further advance the capabilities of their UAVs.
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