UN: Turkish Drones Attacked Libyan Forces In Autonomous Mode

Credit: U.N.

A Turkish quadcopter in fully autonomous mode may have attacked retreating forces in Libya last year, according to a United Nations (U.N.) report. 

An STM Kargu-2 operated by forces with the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) “hunted down and remotely engaged” combatants identified as Haftar Affiliated Force (HAF), according to a report by a U.N.-commissioned panel of experts. 

A footnote to that claim in the report attributed the information to a single confidential source.

STM’s website describes how the Kargu-2 operates in autonomous mode. The quadcopter uses artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to identify a target. As it reaches the target area, the quadcopter detonates an onboard explosive, scattering shrapnel over a wide area. 

The U.N. published the more than 500-page report on the Libyan civil war in March, but the short description of the autonomous Kargu-2 attack went unnoticed until the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists published an article about the incident in late May. 

The U.N. panel described the engagement of the Kargu-2 as part of a wider campaign launched in late March 2020 by the GNA called Operation Peace Storm. At the time, UAE- and Russia-backed HAF militias had encroached on GNA strongholds on the Libyan coast, prompting Turkey, GNA’s ally, to establish a mobile air defense bubble. With the ports safe from HAF air strikes, the GNA assembled units and weapons to push HAF back from the coast. 

In the resulting breakout from Tripoli, GNA units deployed the Kargu-2 quadcopters, according to the U.N. report. 

“The lethal autonomous weapons systems were programmed to attack targets without requiring data connectivity between the operator and the munition: in effect, a true ‘fire, forget and find’ capability,” the report said.

The GNA’s superior firepower had forced the HAF units into a broad withdrawal.

“Once in retreat, they were subject to continual harassment from the unmanned combat aerial vehicles and lethal autonomous weapons systems,” the report said. 

A particular target for the GNA’s drones were UAE-provided Pantsir S-1s, a Russian/Emirati, mobile surface-to-air missile system. 

“These suffered significant casualties, even when used in a passive electro-optical role to avoid GNA-AF jamming,” the report said. “With the Pantsir S-1 threat negated, HAF units had no real protection from remote air attacks.”

Steve Trimble

Steve covers military aviation, missiles and space for the Aviation Week Network, based in Washington DC.