In Part-1 we examined the 1st generation of drones made by BAYKAR.
In this second part we take a closer look at BAYKAR’s 2nd and 3rd generation drones. The 2nd generation drone from BAYKAR, known as AKINCI (Raider) is currently in advanced flight tests, while the 3rd generation known as the “MiUS Concept” is in design.
We have to warn the reader that our focus in Part-2 will be markedly changed.
In Part-1 we focused on engineering and performance of the Bayraktar TB2. More than three years of operational history provided all necessary elements to assess the UAV’s performance.
In this second part we are forced to speculate and make certain assumptions in order to compensate for the lack of available data. These assumptions may or may not prove correct in hindsight.
Finally, success or failure of technologically advanced defense products depends on how they perform in critical operational circumstances. Hence our disclaimer: we will do our best, but the final verdict on these drones will be established in the operational theater.
AKINCI: A Regional Game Changer
In 2020-2021 the 2nd generation of Turkish drones by both TUSAŞ and BAYKAR will enter production. BAYKAR is introducing AKINCI, while TUSAS is flying the AKSUNGUR.
Both drones are twin engine, heavy payload MALE UCAVs. They are both currently in advanced flight testing. AKSUNGUR had an earlier first flight and is expected to enter industrial production before the end of this year. AKINCI will swiftly follow by early 2021.
The two rival drones seem to have a degree of mission commonality: both will be “carrying mule” platforms, offering high payload capacity and supplanting the F-16 in certain Close Air Support / Ground Attack missions.
Currently an F-16 must be scrambled when a TB2 or ANKA drone identifies a hardened or high value target that warrants highly destructive payloads — typically standard M82/M83/M84 munitions with precision kits. The new heavy drones aim to replace the F16 for this type of mission and provide direct reaction, as they either spot the target themselves or loiter close to the spotter.
A great degree of commonality exists in the technical characteristics of the two rival drones:
- AKSUNGUR has a loitering time of 12-24h depending on mission, while AKINCI has a 24+h autonomy.
- AKINCI has a higher payload of 900Kg (in external pylons) plus 450Kg (carried internally). AKSUNGUR has a somewhat lighter payload of 750Kg.
- AKINCI will enjoy a higher cruise speed somewhere within the 300-400 km/h range at a ceiling of 40,000 feet. AKSUNGUR will be limited to around 250km/h at 25,000 – 35,000 feet depending on payload.
- Both drones will have near 100% domestic content. Both will apparently use the advanced Aselsan CATS Electro Optical turret. Planned motorization is also common with Turkish Engine Industries (TEI) PD-170/PD-222 motors.
However, commonality ends here. Whereas TUSAS aspires to a more conventional role , BAYKAR breaks the rules once more.
We recall how BAYKAR thrived by positioning its 1st generation TB2 tactical drone at the low end of the market with a competitive price.
Today it is making a diametrically opposite bet: it aims to position AKINCI at the high end of the market offering formidable capabilities. This will greatly differentiate AKINCI from domestic AKSUNGUR as well as other foreign MALE competitors.
Our best attempt for a TB2 description was Tactical sub-MALE; for AKINCI our best description would be Strategic ultra-MALE (BAYKAR does not make it easy to classify its unique products).
Motorization and Versions
BAYKAR maintains it will offer AKINCI in at least two different versions with different options, including different motorization. The exact characteristics and options for each version are not yet clear.
We will forgo the uncertainty by concentrating on the high-end version, as we are mainly interested in advanced mission systems and capabilities.
Different motorization may affect how each version is equipped, therefore it merits closer examination. Initially BAYKAR planned to use the domestic TEI PD-220 220/170 hp turbodiesel engine, the same motor that will equip AKSUNGUR. Both platforms were supplied with the ANKA TEI PD-170 engine for their prototypes, as the PD-220 is still under development.
However BAYKAR recently changed course. The TEI PD-220 may still equip the low-end version, but BAYKAR decided that the high-end version merits a considerably more powerful motor.
It has thus equipped AKINCI prototypes with Ukrainian IVCHENKO PROGRESS AI-450C2 turboprops producing 750/540 hp maximum-takeoff/cruise output power respectively.
At the same time it formed a joint-venture named “Black Sea Shield” with the Ukrainian company, tasked with the design and manufacture of an even more powerful 900/750 hp turboprop engine derived from the AI-450C2. Both BAYKAR and IVCHENKO PROGRESS will retain full licensing rights on the new engine, effectively providing Turkey with a new domestically manufactured turboprop.
The new engine will equip a “phase II variant” of the high-end AKINCI version around 2023 timeframe.
We list below the principal known technical characteristics. These will generally be common across AKINCI versions unless otherwise stated:
- Carbon Fiber Light Weight construction, a staple of BAYKAR
- Advanced high-performance Turkish Ukrainian 900/750hp and Ukrainian 750/540hp turboprop engines depending on version
- High capacity 900 Kg external and 450 Kg internal payload
- Advanced indigenous Aselsan CATS Electro Optical (EO) turret
- Unlimited range Satellite BLoS guidance backed by a 250Km Line Of Sight (LOS) system
BAYKAR AKINCI payload options
Concerning weapon payload, a variety of munitions can be carried externally in 3 pylons under each wing up to maximum capacity of 900 Kg:
- Stand Off long range cruise missiles (SOM-B/SOM-J, 280+ Km range)
- Stand-Off MK82 500 lb bomb with Wing-Assisted extended range guidance kit (up to 100 Km range)
- MK81/MK82/MK83 standard 250/500/1000lb bombs with precision JDAM type kit or laser guidance kit
- MAM-L ATGM, four under each wing pylon, typically up to 8 per mission
- CİRİT or MAM-C light anti-vehicle/anti-personnel laser-guided 2.75” missiles in canisters of 4 or 6 per pylon
- Beyond Visual Range (BVR) Gökdoğan AA missiles (100+ km range)
- Within Visual Range (WVR) Bozdoğan AA short range Infrared missiles
However, the most important factor that differentiates AKINCI from both domestic and foreign MALE competitors are the advanced mission systems that will be embarked on the platform. Some of these systems may be integrated at a later 2023 timeframe (on the phase II variant):
- Domestic Aselsan AESA radar
- Domestic Tubitak/Aselsan EHPOD Electronic Warfare Pod
- ELINT/SIGINT suite
- Collision Avoidance Radar and Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR/GMTI)
- GPS-independent Inertial Guidance System
- Central multi-node Computer Control: automated real time Sensor Fusion / Situational Awareness
- AI-based computing: automatic detection of land targets invisible to the human eye
These advanced mission systems rival equipment found in multi-role fighters. They may tilt AKINCI — especially its high-end version — towards the very expensive end of the drone spectrum. However we believe that near 100% domestic content will keep prices under control — Turkish industry is one of the most competitive in the world.
Two very advanced systems merit a closer look: the AESA radar which will facilitate use of AA missiles and Stand Off weapons and the EHPOD Electronic Countermeasure (ECM) jamming pod that will provide AKINCI with limited carry-on “furtivity”. We explain:
In Idlib the Aselsan KORAL Electronic Countermeasure (ECM) system helped TB2 avoid Russian-made AA defenses using electronic interference (jamming) to confuse their radar.
EHPOD is a carry-on ECM jammer, similar to the Israeli IAI Elta ELL-8222 Jamming Pod. During the Cope India 2004 combat drills, antiquated Indian Mig-21 Bisons, upgraded with ELL-8222 pods, managed to outmaneuver modern US F-15s, using their jamming pods to confuse the F-15 radar. This allowed them to get within infrared AA missile range and fire their missiles before the F-15 pilots could detect them.
In simple terms a portable ECM pod — assuming it proves effective — provides non-stealthy assets with limited but important “furtivity”. With effective EHPOD jamming as well as long range Stand-Off and BVR weapons, the absence of stealth may be partially compensated.
Finally, before we close the engineering section it is important to briefly revisit the issue of motorization. Why did BAYKAR chose to upgrade from an initially planned 2×170 (340hp) power output up to an anticipated 2×750 (1500hp) configuration? Certainly more power means more speed and increased lift capacity, but such overwhelming increase looks like an overkill: speed increases cannot go very far, before running against airframe limits.
TUBITAK/ASELSAN EHPOD with cooling Air Duct on the side
However, upon closer examination we realize that the AESA radar and other assorted electronics will need considerable amounts of electrical power to operate. More importantly, ECM Jammers such as the EHPOD are notorious power hogs: the more Effective Radiated Power (ERP) they emit, the more electrical and computational power they consume (hence the air-cooling ducts on the side — see picture).
All this electrical power has to be generated somewhere. This explains the conspicuous increase in engine power and provides us with a clear indication: AKINCI will bristle with advanced electronics.
We have already examined how heavy drones augment their primary mission of Close Air Support / Ground Attack. By carrying more and heavier munitions, heavy MALE drones will largely alleviate F-16 support requests.
A more specific variation of the Ground Attack mission is the destruction of heavy or lightly armored columns of multiple vehicles. AKINCI will be able to carry 4 MAM-L ATGMs on a single hard-point under each wing for a total number of eight. A single drone can do a lot of destruction with multiple ATGMs, especially if it has multi-target tracking capabilities.
AKINCI will go beyond the primary MALE mission of Surveillance and Ground Attack. Thanks to its advanced electronic systems, especially its AESA radar and EHPOD Electronic Counter Measure pod, AKINCI will be able to handle more advanced and/or specialized missions. We offer certain examples to illustrate:
A first mission concerns the use of Stand-Off strategic weapons such as the the SOM-B/SOM-J Air Launched Cruise Missiles (ALCM) against strategic targets within a 400-500 km zone around Turkey’s external borders. This mission can be accomplished without leaving the relative safety of Turkish air-space, at least for targets within maximum weapon range (280+ km).
Alternatively an excursion outside safe airspace in a quick “run, launch & turn around” mode may add another 100-200 km to effective range, while still allowing the drone to return safely before it is intercepted and destroyed.
Such a mission can be executed over the Syrian protected border zone, or over the Turkish coast line in the Mediterranean, Aegean and North Seas.
A second mission involves use of the Gökdoğan Beyond Visual Range (BVR) AA missile. We provide an example of an actual engagement:
During Peace Shield, an E-7T AEWC 737 aircraft directed the firing of two US made AMRAAM (100+ Km) missiles from F-16s operating within Turkish Airspace, to destroy two Syrian Su-24 aircraft flying over Idlib at a distance of more than 50 km.
With the right communication link AKINCI could take over this mission, using the indigenous Gökdoğan missile instead of the AMRAAM. AKINCI will certainly not be a dogfighter but it can use its Beyond Visual Range missiles against fighters from safe distance.
Bozdoğan AA infrared missiles could be used against helicopters and hostile drones in short distance.
In a third scenario, this time against a sophisticated regional or world class adversary, AKINCI could enter denied airspace in suicide mode assisted by its EHPOD to opportunistically destroy strategic high value assets such as heavy tankers or AEWC aircraft. Such a conflict may be highly unlikely but merits serious consideration by military planners.
A suicide mode scenario can be generalized for very high value targets in heavily protected airspace, as it would help spare F-4 or F-16 fighters.
The aforementioned missions can be assigned to AKINCI alone, or in tandem with F-4 and F-16 fighters, with the drones acting as force multipliers to confuse and/or overwhelm an adversary. There are many benefits in this approach:
- The service life of the F-16 is extended, eliminating or reducing the need to spend billions of dollars to procure interim fighters prior to TF-X availability.
- AKINCI will be much less expensive to manufacture and considerably cheaper to operate than an F-16; it can thus be deployed in large numbers.
- UCAV unit losses are considerably more anodyne compared to a fighter loss, as you forgo the great financial and human cost of loosing a trained pilot.
- Finally you don’t loose a control station when you loose a drone: thus the unit replacement cost of a UAV is considerably lower than its initial (packaged) procurement.
Altering the Regional Strategic Balance
Turkey is well on the way of building a 200 strong TB2 force mainly for counter-insurgency.
The Turkish Air Force currently operates about 300 F-4 and F-16 fighters: it can afford to augment this force with a massive AKINCI procurement, easily doubling available Air Assets.
TSK will thus gain enormous flexibility. It may still decide to procure a new interim fighter in anticipation of the TF-X.
But the balance of numbers will definitely change, injecting a considerable number of drones in the mix. They may cost millions of dollars, instead of the billions necessary to field an all-fighter force.
This flexibility and subtlety will provide Turkey with a decisive strategic edge in Eastern Mediterranean.
When the phase II high-end AESA and EHPOD equipped AKINCI becomes available around 2023, regional strategic balance will further tilt in favor of Turkey.
MiUS CONCEPT: Replacing the F-35 ？
Not much is known about the 3rd generation of Turkish drones from TUSAŞ and BAYKAR. BAYKAR is proposing the MiUS concept. MiUS stands for “Muharip İnsansiz Uçak Sistemi” or Unmanned Combat Aircraft System.
MiUS concept: Artistic Rendering
Most information on MiUS comes from a somewhat dated 2017 presentation and a few newer announcements: these generally cite a turbofan engine capable of providing 0.8 Mach cruising speed at a ceiling of 40-45 thousand feet with an autonomy of 4-6 hours and a useful payload of 1-1.5 tons. Platform maximum weight (MTOW) is estimated between 3 and 4.5 Tons. Entry into service is expected around the 2023 timeframe.
Meanwhile, the TUSAŞ 3rd generation turbojet equipped supersonic GOKSUNGUR is expected to achieve supersonic speed and fly at an earlier date.
Many questions remain unanswered, the most obvious one about stealth. Lacking pertinent information we decided to ask — and attempt to answer — this question ourselves: what would be the ideal future drone platform ?
The Unmanned Fighter
To better appreciate the opportunities for MiUS, we need to look at the broader Military Aerospace market. A consensus is emerging in certain aerospace and defense circles, that military drones have not yet reached their full potential.
The most provocative question to ask is if the next fighter will need be a manned platform, or would an unmanned platform be a better choice ?
The immediate advantages of an unmanned fighter are obvious:
- Absence of cockpit (huge weight and space implications)
- Absence of instrumentation (displays and other instruments are moved to the control station)
- Absence of complex, heavy, and volume consuming life support systems (oxygen supply, NBC protection, temperature regulation, ejection seat etc.)
- Endurance unconstrained by pilot fatigue limitations
- High-G maneuverability decoupled from human tolerance limits
F-35 crammed weapon bay with SOM-J cruise missile and AMRAAM
These advantages have significant repercussions, as aerospace designers may be relieved from the inherent constraints of manned platforms:
- With cockpit and life support systems removed, drones can become considerably lighter and smaller than a fighter aircraft
- Removal of cockpit and life support systems frees considerable space for internal weapon storage, eliminating a severe problem of stealth fighters: a close look at the badly cramped F-35 weapons bay (see picture) suffices to demonstrate this issue
- Enormous endurance increase with air-to-air refueling, decoupled from pilot fatigue
- Maneuverability up to the airframe’s G-force limits, rather than the pilot’s
- Diversity and optimization of airframe size and payload, in order to fit the mission rather than fit the pilot
- Protection of critical infrastructure housed remotely from the battlefield (control stations and drone operators)
- Potential order-of-magnitude reduction in both production costs and (hourly) operational costs compared to a manned fighter
In conclusion, the size, speed and maneuverability of an unmanned fighter can be optimally modulated, unconstrained from human survivability considerations.
Higher performance, coupled with a substantive increase in total number of unmanned fighters due to affordability, will usher in a new era of military drones, a giant leap in Air Warfare.
MiUS as F-35 Replacement
Could a stealthy MiUS unmanned fighter replace the F-35?
Essential areas where an unmanned fighter will need to approach or surpass its manned peers include stealth, advanced mission electronics and payload.
Effective stealth is the number one objective. Standard practices to achieve stealth involve an airframe design that minimizes radar reflections, partial cover of engine exhaust and use of radar absorbing materials in areas of excess reflectivity.
In the area of mission electronic BAYKAR is on the right direction, as its 2nd generation AKINCI is already an electronics powerhouse, including ultra advanced AESA and ECM systems. A multi-node Artificial Intelligence (AI) suite provides AKINCI with top notch computational capabilities. We are confident that BAYKAR can build upon its AKINCI experience.
In addition we propose a fully capable communication link, as well as upgrading Situational Awareness from Node Level to Network Level to match F-35 capabilities. We are fully comfortable with BAYKAR’s competence in writing the millions of lines of code required for such advanced tasks.
Concerning payload we have the following observations: the F-35 can carry 2.5 tons of weapons in its internal bays. It can carry another 5.5 tons externally, but doing so would compromise its stealth profile.
Pairing the F-35s with a “carrying mule” F-15Xs is a more elegant solution than using external payload, indeed the USAF is now examining this possibility. We strongly believe that the F35 external payload should not be taken into consideration.
BAYKAR’s engineers should only consider the F-35 internal payload capacity. A worthy goal would be to match at least half of this internal capacity of 2.5T, so that at most two MiUS drones can replace one F-35. This seems clearly feasible.
It is also possible to design two different versions of the MiUS with different size and payload, optimized for multi-role/ground attack and the fighter interceptor roles respectively.
A final question concerns speed. An increase into supersonic speed should be examined, at least for the pure fighter platform. A different motorization such as a turbojet may be necessary.
An optional objective would be to explore if MiUS can equip the ANADOLU class LHD carrier. Given the small length of the deck (200 m), only Short Takeoff and Vertical Landing (STOVL) fighters can use the deck today (AV8B, F-35B). A special purpose lighter MiUS variant, in combination with a powerful catapult may be able to manage a carrier takeoff — although this may be extremely difficult to achieve, a feasibility study merits consideration.
Leapfrogging the US
The criticism of the US Air Force for failing to move in the direction of unmanned fighters is clearly warranted. Unfortunately the USAF is too much invested in its current operational doctrine, its prized fighter-pilot mystique and its cozy and nebulous relations with a reluctant, self serving defense industry to adopt — let alone promote — such a fundamental change.
The US Navy managed to move ahead, as it prepares to field a new stealthy Boeing MQ-25 UAV air-to-air refueling tanker. Although this is an unmanned tanker rather than an unmanned fighter, it is nonetheless a first timid step towards the future.
A Boeing MQ 25 “Stingray” unmanned tanker in a refueling trial with an F-35
The question of a fully operational unmanned fighter will not go away: it is bound to endure because it makes perfect sense. If the US doesn’t move in this direction, another country will sooner or later try.
Whereas the US is hampered by the entrenched interests of a bloated defense industrial complex, Turkey’s young and enthusiastic defense industry has no such limits.
BAYKAR is the embodiment of Turkish industry, a young ultra innovative company that invents its own unique designs. If any company in the world can build an unmanned fighter, it is this kind of an iconoclast company we would expect to try.
MiUS may indeed become the world’s first unmanned fighter, leapfrogging the US.
If it succeeds, it will restore Turkey’s Air Superiority aspirations — delayed by the F35 debacle — and help Turkey establish itself as one of a handful of strategically powerful countries or “poles” in a multi-polar world.
BAYKAR managed to amaze us with the Bayraktar TB2 and the superb engineering of the AKINCI.
With MiUS, this small ambitious company may manage to astonish the world once more !
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