When Turkish drones dropped bombs on fuel trucks of Haftar-affiliated militia on Thursday night near the Libyan capital Tripoli, the explosion could be seen from several kilometers away but its impact also resonated through out Athens across the Mediterranean. Turkey’s arch-foe Greece considers Ankara’s recent defense industry jump a substantial threat to its national security as Ankara has been steadily upsetting the balance over the Aegean sea.
Greece and Turkey have considered each other national security matter for much of the past century. The Hellenic state has taken on an arm race with Turkey whom is 8 times of its population and produces more than three folds of Athen’s national income. Disturbed by the fact that Turkey’s defense industry output has skyrocketed in the past decade, Greece does not have the means this time to match Turkey’s growing military might.
Greece has managed to secure most of the Aegean Islands despite losing the war against Turkey in 1923. That created air space and territorial water dispute on the Aegean between the neighbors. Greece’s terrotorial waters are limited to 6 nautical miles. Ankara has announced in 1995 that any attempt by Greece to expand its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles would be considered “Cassus Belli,” a Latin expression used to justify a war. Greece also claims 10 nautical miles of air space from its costs over the Aegean sea. Ankara says that claim violates international law and 4 of those miles are international airspace. So Aegean sea has always been the main source of dispute between Turkey and Greece.
Until recent years, Greece has managed to match Turkey in arms race to counter its powerful neighbor but Turkey’s defense investments in the past decade left the small Aegean nation behind. Turkey has started indigenously producing several military equipment from air defense system like Hisar, to battle field tanks. But above all, Turkish armed drones have become a global warfare game-changer and elevated Turkey’s military muscle.
Ankara first deployed the armed unmanned drones in Syria during Operation Spring Shield. Turkish drones conducted several strikes an Assad forces in Syria destroying several combat vehicles and even Russian-made air defense systems. Drones were so successful, they reshaped the course of the warfare.
Turkish drones then appeared in Libya to change the course of the 6 year-long civil war. Warlord Haftar has been supported by Russia, France, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE and France while Tripoli-based UN-recognized Government of National Accord only found Turkey on its side. GNA has been surrounded in the capital Tripoli and Haftar forces have infiltrated into the suburbs of the city. But it all changed when Turkish drones were engaged in the ongoing battle. For the Second time, Ankara’s drones altered the course of a civil war.
However, one that felt more threatened than ever by the achievements of Turkish drones is neither Assad nor Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar. It is Turkey’s neighbor Greece who finds its national security under threat by developments in Syria and Libya. “Turkey has not taken steps in defense industry, it has literally jumped,” said Savvas Kalenteridis, a former intelligence officer in the Greek army.
A Turkish-made Anka B drone in service with Turkish navy conducted its first reconnaissance flight over the Aegean back in 2018. Since then Turkish drones developed into armed game-changers as Bayraktar also enter the game. Drones will certainly provide Turkey an upper hand over disputed Aegean air space. But Greece’s access to new generation F-35 keeps Athens at comfort for now. The United States has removed Turkey from F-35 program after Ankara decided to purchase Russian-made air defense system.