Turkish Bayraktar TB-2 and Anka-S drones executed "suppress enemy air defense (SEAD)" and "destroy enemy air defense (DEAD)" in Syria in tasks normally requiring F-16s.
The incident, marking the first of drones for both SEAD and DEAD took place during Operation Spring Shield – a cross-border military operation kicked off on February 27, 2020, by the Turkish Military against Syrian regime elements – in retaliation for an attack that killed 33 Turkish soldiers, Turkish defense analyst Hakan Kılıç said in an interview to Daily Sabah. It was also the first time Ankara staged successful coordination of combat drones, fighter jets and electronic warfare (EW) systems.
"If Turkish F-16s did not intercept warplanes of the Assad regime with their beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles (BVRAAM) by conducting a combat air patrol (CAP) mission along the border, Turkish UAVs Bayraktar TB-2 and Anka-S would not have been able to operate in the region," he said.
“Through cooperation, these two armed UAVs, manufactured by Baykar Makina and Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), performed a first in history, with the support of electronic jamming elements. They executed SEAD missions and DEAD tasks normally requiring F-16s. Many Russian-made Syrian air defense missile systems were destroyed by the drones this way,” Kılıç explained.
Kılıç also pointed out that it would’ve been difficult for the drones to perform the missions without the support of F-16s. "If the two Syrian Su-24s and one L-39 warplane that came to hunt the Turkish drones were not downed by our F-16s, how would the UAVs protect themselves?"
Turkish drones were also provided to the Azerbaijan military when a war broke out in Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenian side is said to have lost $4.8 billion worth of weapons including 185+ tanks during the 44-day war. "If Azerbaijan had used manned warplanes instead of TB-2s and (Israeli) Kamikaze drones to destroy Armenian air defense systems and S-300s, it could have suffered many casualties,” the expert noted.
A Bayraktar TB2 reportedly destroyed an Armenian Scud-B ballistic missile while on the launch vehicle (TEL). “It is the first ballistic missile launcher destroyed by a UAV in the history of war,” he claims.
On being asked if drones would replace fighter jets, Kılıç said “If we were fighting a long war with a state, instead of terrorist organizations, such as the PKK, in the last five years when the UAVs started to be produced en masse, then we would see fewer drones and more fighter jets added to the inventory of our armed forces.”
"I think, in the near future, UAVs will replace electronic jamming aircraft, while the tasks of manned systems will focus on carrying anti-radiation and cruise missiles, heavy bombardment and air-to-air missions," he said; adding that drones can perform all of the tasks executed by larger aircraft "when air superiority is established."