Thursday, 27 January 2022

The KARA ATMACA GLCM - An Aegean Game Changer

By Stijn Mitzer
A great number of military projects currently pursued by Turkey have the potential to drastically alter the military balance in the Aegean Sea to the point that Greece is unlikely to ever subside the difference in quality and quantity. This includes the Bayraktar Akinci and MIUS unmanned combat aircraft, the TF-2000 air-defence destroyers, an indigenous fleet of armed unmanned surface vessels (AUSVs), six Type-214TN Reis class submarines with air-independent propulsion and the prospective introduction of small attack submarines. All of these weapon systems are to strengthen Turkey's fleet of some 200 armed drones already conducting regular patrols over the Aegean.
Greece for its part has yet to field any armed drones, with its inventory of MALE UAVs consisting of just four Heron TPs leased from their Israeli manufacturer. [1] While the Hellenic Air Force's inventory of fighter aircraft will be more modern than that of Turkey throughout the 2020s and early 2030s, the oft-repeated claim that Greece is set to enjoy air superiority over the Aegean likely holds little ground in reality. In the (unlikely) event of a full-scale war, a significant portion of Greece's combat aircraft would have to be dedicated to air-to-ground tasks to compensate for the country's lack of UCAVs, its small fleet of attack helicopters and the short-range of most of its artillery.
In contrast, the Turkish Air Force can dedicate a much larger portion of its F-16s to air defence sorties, with some 150 UCAVs and around 70 attack helicopters available to provide fire-support to ground and naval forces. Of these, the Bayraktar Akıncı and MIUS are increasingly capable of replicating the capabilities of manned combat arcraft, and essentially constitute the world's first multi-role unmanned combat aircraft. Their capabilities will not only include deploying an extensive arsenal of domestically-produced cruise missiles and standoff munitions, but also firing beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles (BVRAAMs) at targets as far as 100km away. [2] [3]

This is not to say that Greece is left completely defenceless, with an extensive network of MIM-104 Patriot, S-300PMU-1, MIM-23 Hawk, Crotale-NG, Skyguard, 9K33 Osa and Tor-M1 SAM systems poised to make enemy air operations over the Aegan a nightmare. Unfortunately for Greece, a vast portion of the munitions that are set to arm Turkey's UCAVs, F-16s and future TF-X fighters outrange virtually all Greek air defence systems. Even when disregarding Turkey's fleet of UCAVs, the country possesses several more systems that could be used to neutralise Greek SAM sites and systems. This includes the KORAL and REDET-II electronic warfare systems, J-600T Yıldırım and Bora short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) and soon the KARA Atmaca ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM).

The KARA Atmaca was unveiled in August 2021 as a ground-attack derivate of the Atmaca anti-ship missile (AShM). Developed by Roketsan to meet a Turkish Army requirement for a high-precision GLCM, the KARA Atmaca features a range of 280+km. Although thereby the shortest-ranged surface-to-surface cruise missile in the world, its range is still enough to hit most Greek air defence sites when launched from launch sites along the Turkish coast. While the KARA Atmaca is technically also capable of being launched from submarine (like the Atmaca AShM), Turkey is already developing the 1000+km-ranged Gezgin land-attack cruise missile (LACM) specifically for this purpose. [4]

The red circles depict the range of the KARA Atmaca when fired from launch sites along the Turkish coast.

The KARA Atmaca missile carries a 250kg HE warhead to a range of at least 280km, making it ideally suited for targeting enemy command posts, radar stations and SAM sites located in the enemy's rear. [5] Incorporating not only inertial, but also satellite guidance, the GLCM boasts increased effectiveness over guided artillery rockets and SRBMs. [5] This is mainly achieved through the KARA Atmaca's imaging infrared (IIR) homing seeker that allows the missile to accurately identify or change its target during the terminal stage and hit it with high precision.

The terrain-hugging and low observable features inherent to cruise missile designs also makes the KARA Atmaca notoriously difficult to intercept. SRBMs like the Bora are more susceptible to interception by SAM systems like the MIM-104 Patriot due to their high flight trajectory. In contrast, the KARA Atmaca will prove a much harder target to intercept because of its terrain-hugging nature. The topography of the Aegean will also work in favour of the missile, cruising around mountains and through canyons to escape detection before impacting its target at long range.

Mockups of the KARA Atmaca GLCM (left) and the Atmaca AShM (right). Note that the KARA Atmaca mockup does not feature the IIR seeker associated with the missile.

With the introduction of KARA Atmaca in 2025, the Turkish Land Forces will for the first time possess a cruise missile capability. [6] The launching vehicle for the KARA Atmaca is modular, meaning the same launcher can also be used to launch TRLG-122 and TRLG-230 laser-guided rockets and TRG-300 GPS/INS guided rockets. The TRG-300 is a guided artillery rocket based on the Chinese WS-1B rocket system, and currently fulfils some of the tasks the KARA Atmaca will take over in 2025. Compared to the TRG-300, the KARA Atmaca features an increased range (280+km vs 120+km), a heavier warhead (250kg vs 190 or 105kg) and higher precision achieved through the fitting of an IIR-seeker.

The TRG-300 has already found commercial success with Azerbaijan, Bangladesh and the UAE, and it doesn't seem unlikely that the KARA Atmaca will achieve similar success on the foreign market. The 280km range of the system is low enough for Turkey to market the KARA Atmaca while respecting arms treaties such as the missile technology control regime (MTCR) at the same time. Potential customers include Azerbaijan, Qatar, Ukraine, Morocco, the UAE and Indonesia, which all already operate guided rockets or have neighbours armed with cruise missiles and SRBMs. With this in mind, the KARA Atmaca could be the first cruise missile to become an export success.

Who thinks that the KARA Atmaca will be the last long-range missile system to enter service with the Turkish Armed Forces is likely to be sorely mistaken. The introduction of the indigenous Gezgin cruise missile will enable Turkish surface combatants and submarines to engage strategic targets at long standoff ranges. Through the acquisition of the KARA Atmaca GLCM, the Gezgin LACM and the further development of the Bora SRBM, Turkey will soon be in the possession of a variety of game-changing weapon systems for use in the Aegean Sea region and beyond.

It is easy to be blindsided by the success of Turkish UCAVs, thereby ignoring a host of other projects that are set to drastically alter the status quo in the Aegan Sea and reset the military balance in the Mediterranean Sea. The recurring trend with each of these developments is not only that Greece is currently lagging significantly behind in military developments compared to Turkey, but also that Turkey's efforts to expand on its military capabilities continue to outpace Greece to the point that it is unlikely to ever catch up.

The Gezgin SLCM will put any land-based target located within a 1000km range in the sights of Turkish submarines and large surface combatants.

[1] Israel will lease IAI Heron UAV's to Greece
[2] Endless Possibilities - The Bayraktar Akıncı’s Multi-Role Weapons Loadout
[3] Deadly Advanced: A Complete Overview Of Turkish Designed Air-Launched Munitions
[4] Turkey one step closer to develop indigenous cruise missile
[6] Karadan Karaya Seyir Füzesi Projesi’nde (Kara ATMACA) İmzalar Atıldı

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