Can the PKK challenge Turkish drone supremacy?

Any drone technology the PKK obtains will probably not present a significant challenge to Turkish drones

Can the PKK challenge Turkish drone supremacy?

On 20 March, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), outlawed by Turkey and several other nations, made a significant announcement. They disclosed the downing of 15 Turkish drones within the Kurdistan Region over the past year.

Moreover, the group revealed its acquisition of new missile systems capable of countering Turkish drones. However, it has kept specific details about the type and source of these systems under wraps.

This strategic disclosure coincided with Nowruz, the Kurdish New Year, which is celebrated worldwide as a symbol of resilience against oppression.

The announcement has triggered speculation across various circles about the origin of these weapons and their potential to shift the tides in the ongoing conflict with Turkish forces.

During the highly anticipated Newroz celebration, the PKK unveiled its latest arsenal aimed at bolstering its combat prowess against Turkey.

Attacks disclosed

The Kurdish guerrilla faction disclosed a series of drone downings dating back to 13 February of last year, culminating in the most recent incident over Ciya Resh in the Zap region on 1 March. Among the 15 downed drones detailed, six were Bayraktar TB2s, five were Ankas, two were Akıncıs, and two were Aksungurs.

The statement emphasised that documentation existed for all attacks on Turkish drones, except for a few instances. Additionally, the PKK released video footage depicting at least four combat drones being shot down alongside their wreckage on the ground.

Using drones gives Turkey advantages in surveillance and attacking enemy positions with little risk to personnel.

Besides, the insurgent group asserted that the Turkish drones were targeted using a missile system it had acquired and provided to guerrilla fighters, defying Turkey's efforts to isolate the Kurdish people on the international stage. However, the type of missile systems the guerrilla group utilises remains ambiguous.

Modern warfare strategy

The utilisation of drones has emerged as a cornerstone of Turkey's modern warfare strategy, furnishing Ankara with a suite of advantages in surveillance, targeting, and attacking enemy positions while mitigating risks to personnel.

This reliance on drone technology has been palpable in the Turkish military's operations against the PKK in Kurdistan and its affiliates in northern and eastern Syria, notably the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in recent years.

The heavy deployment of combat drones by Turkey has resulted in hundreds of casualties in these regions, with strikes targeting both strategic assets and senior PKK officials.

Given this context, the PKK's assertion, if substantiated, could signify a substantial tactical shift and a direct challenge to the Turkish military's surveillance and offensive capabilities in the area.

The reported downing of drones includes models such as Bayraktar TB2, ANKA, AKSUNGUR, and AKINCI, all of which rank among the most advanced in Turkey's arsenal, with the TB2 earning particular renown.

Despite these assertions, details regarding the type and origin of the technology acquired by the PKK and its supply chain remain elusive. An article for the government-aligned Yeni Safak daily suggested that the PKK had obtained kamikaze drones, which it intends to deploy against Turkish drones.

The article further alleged that Bafel Talabani facilitated the provision of this technology to the terrorist organisation without disclosing the sources of the drones.

Any drone technology the PKK obtains will probably not present a significant challenge to Turkish drones.

Similarly, an article published by Middle East Eye claimed that the PKK had procured the Iranian-made Meraj kamikaze drones. These systems purportedly reached the group through two channels associated with Tehran, including Talabani.

However, military experts interviewed by the author voiced scepticism about these assertions. They emphasised that most Meraj drone models may not pose a substantial threat to Turkish drones like the Bayraktar TB2, which are equipped to perform evasive manoeuvres when targeted by missiles or other drones.

No match 

Unless the PKK somehow acquired the latest Meraj-532 model, which appears unlikely due to its recent introduction and high cost, any technology it obtained would probably not present a significant challenge to Turkish drones. For its part, Ankara would likely employ its most advanced countermeasures to mitigate any potential risks.

The military sources also pointed out the poor quality of the PKK's footage, which complicates efforts to determine the cause of the drones' downing.

Despite the low resolution, there was no visible evidence of post-explosion damage, suggesting that technical malfunctions might be responsible for the crashes rather than deliberate attacks.

Additionally, the experts highlighted the limited evidence regarding the impact of the acquired technology, contrasting it with Turkey's extensive drone operations in the past year. This discrepancy suggests a higher probability of accidents or technical malfunctions rather than deliberate targeting.

Furthermore, the lack of information on the PKK's use of drones in offensive operations against Turkish forces raises doubts about the effectiveness and damage potential of this alleged technology.

Until more concrete evidence emerges to prove the PKK claim, Turkey's dominance of the skies over Kurdish-controlled regions in Syria and Iraq remains unchallenged, enabling Ankara to relentlessly pursue and eliminate PKK targets.

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