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Turkey’s troops are going to gain a potentially game-changing new capability. The Turkish military reportedly plans to buy more than 500 quadcopter-type Kargu series loitering munitions, or suicide drones, in the near term. 

While currently, the Kargus can operate in semi-autonomous or manually-controlled modes, work is underway to give up to 20 of them the ability to carry out mass attacks as a swarm. The Turkish company STM was expecting to deliver the hundreds of drones to the Turkish armed forces on June 15, 2020. It’s not clear if this total order for “over 500” of the drones includes or is in addition to a purchase agreement for 356 Kargus that the Turkish government itself announced in January.

STM introduced the first generation Kargu in 2017 and the Turkish military first began receiving small numbers of the improved Kargu-2 variant last year. Turkish forces have reportedly at least deployed, if not employed, the drones during operations along the country’s border with Syria last year.

The manufacturer says that Kargu “has been engineered specifically for anti-terror and asymmetric warfare scenarios.” The Kargu-2 can fly at up to 90 miles per hour and can remain airborne for up to 30 minutes. It has a line-of-sight control link with a range of around six miles.

The Kargu-2 can also fly higher, has a longer range, and has the ability to remain in a designated area for a longer period of time compared to the earlier models. It also has updated targeting capabilities and improvements to reduce its auditory signature, the latter of which helps reduce the chance that an opponent will spot the drone before it’s too late.

An operator on the ground can manually control any of the Kargu series drones and use their onboard sensors, which includes electro-optical and infrared video cameras and a laser imaging system, or LIDAR, to conduct general surveillance and identify and track targets. They can then direct the quad-copters to attack a designated threat, even if it’s on the move. The loitering munitions can also safely return to their operators for re-use if no targets are found.

According to thedrive.com, the drones can carry one of three different types of warheads, including a high-explosive fragmentation one for engaging personnel and other unarmored targets in the open, a thermobaric type good for targets in confined spaces such as buildings or caves, and a shaped charge for attacking lightly armored threats. The drone’s warhead can also be set to function on impact or airburst above the target, the latter being a feature particularly useful for the fragmentation and thermobaric types.

The operator can also employ the Kargus as a traditional missile against fixed targets. In this method of attack, the drone would use its GPS navigation system to strike the desired location.

The Kargu series of drones can also operate in a semi-autonomous mode, wherein the operator directs the quad-copter to fly to a certain area and then detect and engage targets on its own. 

Last year, STM announced it was working to give the Kargu family of drones additional autonomy and the ability to work together in large swarms. The swarming technology is in development as part of a larger Turkish government program known as Kerkes, which is also looking to develop systems to improve the ability of drones to operate in GPS-denied environments.