Monday, 30 August 2021

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By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
 
The profileration of unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) has accelerated since the turn of the century, with many countries either already possessing armed drones or currently looking to acquire them. Much less common however is the acquisition of UCAVs by a non-state actor. Intriguingly, this is exactly what has happened in Iraq, where the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) have managed to acquire several Mohajer-6s UCAVs from Iran. Their public appearance in Iraq came several months before the delivery of Mohajer-6s to Ethiopia, which is a story we broke in early August.

Sunday, 29 August 2021

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By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans  
 
İstikbal göklerdedir. Göklerini koruyamayan uluslar, yarınlarından asla emin olamazlar  - The future is in the skies. Because nations that cannot protect their skies, can never be sure of their future. (By Mustafa Kemal Atatürk)

 
The Bayraktar Akıncı unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) introduces a number of novel capabilities to the field of unmanned aerial warfare. These include several features not seen on any other type of UAV in the world before, most notably the ability to launch 275+km-ranged high-precision cruise missiles and beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles (BVRAAMs) at targets as far as 100 kilometres away. These capabilities in practice turn the Akıncı into the first production multi-role unmanned combat aircraft in the world.

Saturday, 28 August 2021

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By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
 
Images of the devastating explosions in Beirut in August 2020 shocked the world as stunning incompetence and negligence in the storage of 2.750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate killed 207 and caused in excess of 15 billion USD in damages. Also struck was the BNS Bijoy, a Bangladesh Navy vessel stationed in Beirut during its deployment to the Mediterranean as part of the Maritime Task Force of the United Nations mission in Lebanon. Largely spared from the most extreme effects of the explosion thanks to the nearby grain elevators that absorbed much of the blast, the crew still suffered 21 wounded and the vessel had to undergo repairs in Turkey before it could safely make the journey back home. [1]

Thursday, 26 August 2021

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By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
 
The Su-25 has earned its stripes as a rugged close air support aircraft capable of delivering a wide variety of ordnance while withstanding a significant beating from AA guns and MANPADS. From the onset designed with a limited guided weaponry capability in mind, Soviet designers would eventually expand on these capabilities through the development of the Su-25T dedicated anti-tank hunter version. Although offering a number of highly advanced features for its time, its inception during the final years of the USSR ultimately prevented the aircraft from entering into service.

Tuesday, 24 August 2021

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By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
 
Having proved itself in combat thrice over, the Bayraktar TB2 is quickly becoming an international export success. In addition to entering service with a number of countries worldwide, the Bayraktar TB2 has also been acquired by several different military branches of these nations. In Turkey, the TB2 has entered service with the Land Forces, Naval Forces, Gendarmerie General Command, General Directorate of Security (Police) and the National Intelligence Organization. This distribition ensures that each branch of the military and other state institutions can use its TB2s for the respective tasks required by them, for example to conduct surveillance in the Aegean Sea or to monitor wildfires in southern Turkey.

Monday, 23 August 2021

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By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
 
Ethiopia recently caught headlines for its acquisition of Mohajer-6 unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) from Iran. Historically a close ally of Israel and the United Arab Emirates, the choice for an Iranian system is remarkable to say the least, and might have been motivated more by sheer desperation for an UCAV capability to change its fortunes in the ongoing Tigray War rather than a true preference for the Iranian Mohajer-6 over contemporary UCAVs from China or Turkey.

Sunday, 22 August 2021

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By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
 
The Chinese Y-8 transport aircraft is unlikely to receive an award for the originality of its design – it being a 1970s reverse engineered variant of the Soviet An-12 with marginal changes to suit Chinese requirements. From the 1970s onwards, the Shaanxi Aircraft Factory set out to improve on the proven design, building on experiences gained with the serial production of the Y-8 but also taking advantage of foreign expertise through Lockeed Martin as well as Antonov, the original designer of the An-12. The resulting aircraft, the Y-8F-600 and Y-9, still have a clear outward resemblance to the earlier Y-8 variants but feature a stretched and redesigned fuselage, a glass cockpit and the ability to use Pratt & Whitney turboprop engines.

Friday, 20 August 2021

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By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
 
As new information on the delivery of Iranian Mohajer-6 UCAVs to Ethiopia continues to come to light, their deployment to the country has yet to bring about a reversal of fortunes for the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF). Largely unproven and equipped with subsystems (including its FLIR camera and munitions) of inferior quality than found on contemporary UCAVs from China and Turkey, it seems unlikely the Mohajer-6 will end up as the crucial asset that could finally turn the Tigray War into Ethiopia's favour.

Monday, 16 August 2021

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By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

 
The list only includes captured Afghan aircraft of which photographic or videographic evidence is available. Therefore, the amount of aircraft captured is undoubtedly higher than what is listed here. Not all aircraft captured in intact condition are operational at the time of capture. Thus, the number of aircraft captured by the Taliban thus doesn't translate into an operational fleet of similar size. Civilian aircraft are not included in this list.
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By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
 
Military analysis circles have lately been abuzz with speculation suggesting that Bulgaria is eying the acquisition of at least six Bayraktar TB2 unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) from Turkey. If this procurement goes through, it would reintroduce capabilities long lost to Bulgaria and simultaneously add to a rapidly growing list of countries interested in acquiring the TB2 or currently already in the process of doing so. Bulgaria is said to have kickstarted its attempt at purchasing TB2s in 2020, but postponed the decision because of the COVID-19 pandemic. [1] If the TB2 does eventually arrive to Bulgaria, it will be the second country (or third pending Latvia's acquisition) in the European Union to purchase the system after Poland acquired 24 TB2s in May 2021.

The Central and Eastern European interest in the Bayraktar TB2 is undoubtedly a result of its repeated successes over Libya, Syria and more recently Nagorno-Karabakh. Another obvious factor at play is the system's low initial price and operating costs, which actually for the first time makes the cost-benefit analysis of operating modern U(C)AVs a favourable one to countries like Bulgaria, with contemporary systems such as the MQ-9B Reaper simply being too expensive. The fact that the TB2 can be bought from a fellow NATO member will surely also be appreciated, providing an additional degree of security as well as a guarantee of quality that might be lacking from other providers.

It is little known that Bulgaria once operated a significant fleet of reconnaisance aircraft that at one point even included a number of MiG-25RBT 'Foxbats'. Bulgaria was the only Warsaw Pact country to operate the mighty Foxbat, the highly specialised nature of which and prohibitive operating costs were apparently enough to dissuade all other Warsaw Pact members from acquiring the aircraft. Bulgaria itself would only purchase four MiG-25s, which likely did little to improve the operations and maintenance costs per unit while they were in operational service.

Presumably for this reason, but also the drastically changed post-cold war security climate, the remaining MiG-25s were retired already within ten years of entering service and exchanged for five MiG-23MLD fighter-aircraft with Russia in 1991. Although this marked the end of 'Foxbat' operations in Bulgaria, Ukraine would continue to operate its MiG-25PD(S) interceptors and MiG-25RBTs until 1996 while Russia only retired its last MiG-25RB(T)s in November 2013, some 50 years after the type first entered service.


Two decades earlier, in November 1982, three MiG-25RBTs (serials: 731, 736 and 754) and a single MiG-25RU two-seat conversion trainer (serial: 51) arrived at Dobrich Air Base in northeastern Bulgaria. The aircraft subsequently entered service with the 26th Reconnaissance Air Regiment for photo reconnaissance and electronic signals intelligence (ELINT) duties. Tragedy struck on the 12th of April 1984 when a MiG-25RBT was lost after running out of fuel in bad weather, forcing the pilot to eject. Luckily the pilot was unharmed, and this would be the only loss of a MiG-25 in Bulgarian service. In May 1991, the three remaining aircraft roamed through Bulgarian airspace for the last time as they departed for an uncertain future in a crumbling USSR. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the aircraft were taken over by the Russian Air Force and flown from Lipetsk and later from Shatalovo, later even seeing action during the Chechen Wars. [2]

 
During the 1950s the 26th Reconnaissance Air Regiment was initially equipped with a hodgepodge of aircraft that weren't particularly well-suited to the reconnaissance role, mostly comprising bomber aircraft that were flown in their original configuration. But in the decades that followed, the unit eventually grew out to become the best-equipped aerial reconnaissance unit in the Warsaw Pact.

In the course of the 1950s, it received fourteen Il-28R (and one Il-28U trainer) aircraft, supplemented by some twelve MiG-15bisR at the start of the 1960s. Though their service in Bulgaria wouldn't be exceptionally longlasting, it bears mentioning that such aircraft have elsewhere weathered the ages and found use even in today's day and age, with North Korea still maintaining them in operational condition. [3]

The Il-28Rs and MiG-15bisRs were later supplemented and replaced by MiG-21R combat-capable reconnaissance aircraft and MiG-21MFs modified for the same role. The 1980s would see the unit's golden decade with the delivery of the MiG-25RBTs as well as Su-22M-4s. [4] [5] As the last remaining MiG-21R and MiG-21MF-R aircraft were retired from service, Dobrich Air Base closed its doors in 2002, followed by the retirement of the Su-22M-4s two years later. Since then, no dedicated reconnaissance aircraft are operated by the Bulgarian Air Force.
 

A Bulgarian MiG-25 is flanked by two MiG-21s, clearly showcasing its massive size

When equipped with multiple ejector racks (MERs), the reconnaissance-configured MiG-25RBT could be turned into a high-speed bomber armed with up to eight 500kg FAB-500Ts. There is no evidence to suggest Bulgaria ever received MERs for its MiG-25s or had any interest in deploying its aircraft as bombers in the first place however. [6] This was likely the case because of the terrible accuracy associated with using MiG-25s as bombers, which were originally supposed to deliver nuclear weapons only, so that accuracy wasn't of too great importance. 


The days of Bulgaria operating dedicated reconnaissance aircraft are long gone, with the air force struggling to maintain and eventually completely replace its other Soviet-era air assets like the MiG-29 and Su-25 with more modern Western aircraft. In this respect, a UCAV like the TB2 could present not only a valuable reconnaissance asset, but also form a cost-effective option to take over at least some the roles of the Su-25s and Mi-24s currently still in service, propelling Bulgaria into the age drone-powered warfare at a price more compatible with its current expenditures.

Whether an acquisition ultimately materialises or not, the odds that Baykar's TB2 has seen its last sale in the European Union are slim indeed. In fact, current interest in the type seems to indicate a virtual wave of exports spanning more than just the European subcontinent is at hand. At present, Bulgaria could well be among the first EU nations to ride this wave, ensuring the continuation of its rich history of operating reconnaissance aircraft.
 

[4] Bulgarian Air Defence and Air Force’s Tactical Air Units in January 1, 1983 http://www.easternorbat.com/html/bulgarian_tactical_air_force_8.html
[5] Bulgarian Air Defence and Air Force’s Tactical Air Units in January 1, 1988 http://www.easternorbat.com/html/bulgarian_tactical_air_force_81.html
 

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Friday, 13 August 2021

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By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
 
Much attention has been devoted to Turkey's rise to a global drone power in the past several years. While some argue that Turkish developments in this field have been highly beneficial to NATO and several individual member states in particular, others view Turkey's drone industry and profileration as a threat that should be contained through suspending exports of drone technology or even by imposing further sanctions on Turkey. The subject is frequently covered by political spectactors, which has given rise to arguments of highly politicised character on more than one occasion.

Wednesday, 11 August 2021

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By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

A sudden violent outbreak of civil war in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region has thrown the nation into turmoil. After years of uneasy peace with its northern neighbour, Ethiopia suddenly finds itself at war with an unexpected foe equipped with the very same armament it stockpiled in preparation for a conventional war with Eritrea. With the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) making steady gains and government forces seemingly unable to stem the tide, the country is now frantically looking for anything to change its fortunes. In so doing, it has found support in more than one unlikely ally of opportunity. Most recently, it appears Ethiopia has managed to secure a hasty contract with Iran for the delivery of a number of Mohajer-6 unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs).

Monday, 9 August 2021

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By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
 
Turkmenistan has embarked on an ambitious re-equipment programme with the aim of modernising its air force through the acquisition of various types of new combat and transport aircraft. This acquisition drive has included types like the M-346 combat jet aircraft and the C-27J NG transport aircraft that have both been ordered from Italy. Another introduction that had been anticipated is the Brazilian A-29B Super Tucano turboprop light attack aircraft, which has so far been bought by more than fifteen countries around the globe. Turkmenistan was long rumoured to have been eying the acquisition of the popular attack aircraft, and one Super Tucano was even tested in the country for a short period in 2019.

Saturday, 7 August 2021

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By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
 
Like many Central Asian countries, Turkmenistan operates an exotic fleet of armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs) it inherited from the Soviet Union or purchased from other nations in the past decades. The latter acquisitions manifested themselves in the sourcing of modern AFVs like the T-90S, BMP-3 and BTR-80A from Russia, and large numbers of infantry mobility vehicles (IMVs) from countries such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the UAE and China. Other sources of AFVs include the United States, Austria and Belarus, together culminating in a highly diverse arsenal of military vehicles.

Monday, 2 August 2021

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By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
 
Turkey is currently battling a series of deadly forest fires that are raging through the southern part of the country. With high temperatures and strong winds plaguing the region, the wildfires have so far proven difficult to put under control, with new fires quickly spreading to other provinces. The relentless fires also put several tourist areas along the Mediterranean Sea under threat, leaving behind a path of destruction as the flames slowly crawled closer to the coast. The wildfires have so far resulted in the death of eight people with hundreds more evacuated as houses go up in flames and precious lifestock is lost to smoke and heat. [1]