Tuesday, 25 January 2022

The Last Of Many - Turkmenistan’s CH-3A UCAVs

By Stijn Mitzer
The success of Chinese-made unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) once seemed unstoppable, with countries in the Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa acquiring ever larger numbers of Wing Loong and CH-series of UCAVs. This impressive sales record seems to have had little to do with an apparent preference for Chinese UCAVs however. Rather, the UCAV market featured very little competition during the first half of the last decade, particularly if the country looking to acquire UCAVs didn't have the luxury of being able to purchase arms from the United States.

But even countries with close ties to the U.S. were often prohibited from acquiring armed MQ-1 Predator or MQ-9 Reaper drones, or could only do so with the promise of not deploying them over certain areas (as was the case with Turkey). Other major arms producers like Russia did not yet produce UCAVs while Israel doesn't export armed drones. In a competitive market, prices are pushed down as producers compete with one another. The emergence of Turkey as a major producer of UCAVs has meanwhile transformed the armed drone market, arguably at the cost of China.

But the emergence of Turkey as a producer of armed drones came too late to address Turkmenistan's requirement for UCAVs in the early part of the 2010s. Faced with little options but to acquire UCAVs from China, the Turkmen Air Force did precisely that, ordering a number of CH-3A and WJ-600A/D UCAVs from CASC and CASIC. [1] While presented with much fanfare during the country's 25th anniversary of independence day parade in 2016, very little information is known about the numbers acquired and their subsequent service in Turkmenistan.

What is known is that Turkmenistan's CH-3As are based at Ak-Tepe-Bezmain air base along with three Selex ES Falco XN reconnaissance UAVs acquired from Italy in 2011. [2] Featuring one hardpoint under each wing, the CH-3A is usually armed with two AR-1 air-to-surface missiles (ASMs) with a range of up to eight kilometres. The CH-3A has a cruising airspeed of 200km/h and an endurance of some roughly 12 hours. Whilst underwhelming by modern standards, it is still more than the three to five hours endurance of Turkmenistan's jet-powered WJ-600A/D. [4]

President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow cycles past Chinese-made FD-2000 and KS-1A SAM systems at Ak-Tepe-Bezmain air base. Note the CH-3A to the right of the KS-1A. This is the only sighting of the drone outside the 2016 parade.

Turkmenistan's decision to acquire the Bayraktar TB2 instead of additional CH-3A, CH-4B or Wing Loong UCAVs is another notable success for Baykar Tech. [5] Turkmenistan was the fifth country to have acquired the TB2, which has meanwhile been sold to no less than 17 countries. [6] A global shift in the procurement of armed drones has begun to emerge at the cost of traditional suppliers in China and the United States. This goes on to show that once stagnant markets can still be captured from competitors, a feat epitomized by Turkmenistan's CH-3As and TB2s.
[2] Berdimuhamedow’s Birds Of Prey: The Italian Falco XN UAV In Turkmenistan https://www.oryxspioenkop.com/2021/12/nurmagomedovs-birds-of-prey-italian.html
[5] Turkmenistan Parades Newly-Acquired Bayraktar TB2s https://www.oryxspioenkop.com/2021/09/turkmenistan-parades-newly-acquired.html
[6] Akıncı TİHA da katıldı, savunma sanayisi ihracatta yüksekten uçuyor https://www.aa.com.tr/tr/ekonomi/akinci-tiha-da-katildi-savunma-sanayisi-ihracatta-yuksekten-ucuyor/2482865