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Turkey uses laser technology to shoot down armed drone in Libya: report

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A combat laser for the first time destroyed another combat vehicle on the battlefield, and it is Turkish technology that is behind one of the more significant recent advancements in military technology, according to the military news site Army Recognition, Ahval reported.

 “Turkey is not sufficiently recognised in the ranks of the countries-innovators in military affairs,” Alexander Timokhin wrote for Army Recognition on Monday. “But it seems that they will be able to surprise the population of the planet in this century.”

In Libya’s conflict, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been supporting the UN-backed, Tripoli-based government, mainly for its links to Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood. On the other side, the Libyan National Army led by General Khalifa Haftar is supported by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Russia and has received verbal support from US President Donald Trump.

“Haftar is slowly but surely winning,” said Timokhin, adding that Turkey has sent heavy weapons, advisers and instructors in response and recently began transferring militants from Syria as well as advanced high-tech weapons.

Earlier this month, an armed UAE drone, made in China as the Wing Loong II, was doing reconnaissance over the Misurata area for Haftar and looking for targets for its anti-tank missile. Suddenly, it plummeted and crashed into the desert, and the photo soon flew around the world.

The Turkish laser that shot down the UAV in mid-flight, according to Timokhin, is mounted on an off-road armored car and equipped with a Turkish-made opto-electronic guidance system.

“The system allows you to accurately inspect the target for firing, to select a vulnerable point, and then hold the laser marker on this point until the target is completely destroyed,” said Timokhin.

This is no longer an experimental technology, he added, but a fully functional combat vehicle armed with a laser gun, tested in battle against advanced military technology, not against a commercial drone bought on eBay. 

“Such a gun could well bring down an unarmored helicopter, and easily. And Turkey can build such weapons in large quantities without any problems,” said Timokhin.

Turkey has long sought to achieve military superiority in the region and seriously invested in innovative weapon systems. Working with state research institute Tubitak, the Turkish company Savtag developed experimental lasers, from 1.25 kW up to 50 kW, and by 2015 they had begun successfully hitting targets, according to Timokhin.

That year alone, Turkey spent $450 million on the program. “For a country that has access to all Western technologies and already saves a lot of money on R&D, this was a very impressive amount,” said Timokhin.

Aselsan Holding, Turkey’s top defense contractor, soon took over the laser weapons program, and by July 2018 announced it had successfully tested a combat laser capable of destroying unmanned drones from 500 meters and explosive devices from 200 meters.

Even conscripts could use these new weapons, and the cost of firing the laser gun is equal to the price of diesel fuel spent during the shooting, Timokhin added. This news is unlikely to have a big impact until Turkey uses the weapon on a bigger stage. But that doesn’t mean it is insignificant.

“This is all the more surprising because both Russia and the United States are superior to the Turks in laser technology,” said Timokhin, adding that both do have laser weaponry in operation.

“But ground-based combat vehicles with tactical-level lasers are not being built and used in Russia or the United States. This is done by the Turks,” he added. “In the future laser arms race, the Turks have already claimed a prize for themselves.”

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