OSINT/GEOINT Case Study: TB2 Qatar
Written and researched by @ameliairheart and @woootel
This OSINT/GEOINT case study examines how we tentatively identified an airbase located in Al Khor, Qatar (at 25.76660, 51.29147) as being host to Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
Using Google Earth, Sentinel Hub, ADS-B Exchange, as well as available media sources, we were able to conclude this based on available data.
Our interest was piqued about this base after we spotted an unusual aircraft operating from and around the base on ADS-B Exchange (fig. 1). Wishing to understand what this aircraft was, given that there was little information, we began to investigate.
Figure 1: The ADSB track which got us interested
First, we brought up imagery of the location with Google Earth in the hopes that we would find recent imagery showing aircraft on the apron. Unfortunately, this was not the case: the most recent imagery was from mid 2020 with no aircraft visible. We then loaded up Sentinel Hub in order to source more recent imagery of the site (fig. 2).
Figure 2: Sentinel Hub Imagery of the Site
With the help of Sentinel Hub’s timelapse function, we established that the airfield had started construction around the beginning of 2018 with its core elements completed by the end of 2019. We were also able to identify a new taxiway and hanger that started construction in October 2020 (fig 2, red box), and completed around the start of 2021. This new construction caught our attention, because of the approximate size of the hanger and the fact that it was built significantly later than the rest of the airfield.
Given that the ADSB track, callsign, and flight path all indicated a UAV, we began to look in to what kinds of UAVs Qatar operates. Based on the Drone Databook, we determined that Qatar has: 10 Bayraktar Minis, 6 Bayraktar TB2s, and an unconfirmed number of Textron Aerosonde 3s. Based on the range flown, speed, and altitude, it was decided that the most likely candidate was the TB2. We then proceeded to define a timeframe: in early 2018 they signed for six Bayraktar TB2 UAVs, in early 2019 the drones had been built, and around the same time Qatari military personnel were being trained on their use in Turkey. The first construction at the airfield, visible by satellite, predates by only a few months the signing of the TB2 deal, suggesting that it was created for the purpose of operating the UAVs.
If the airfield was indeed flying TB2s, we had to work out where they were being stored. Given that we could not see them in the open via Google Earth, We used Google Earth imagery of a known TB2 base in Turkey to find the dimensions of the buildings used to support the UAVs, even finding an image with a TB2 next to a building (fig. 3). With the dimensions of the building housing TB2s in Turkey, we went looking for a similar structure at the Qatari base.
Figure 3: a TB2 seen next to hangars at a base in Turkey
At first, we could not find a building which matched well in terms of length, although the hangar in fig. 3 matched in width but not in length. We then wondered, is the structure in image one a hangar? Is it just a low rise of concrete? We could see a faint shadow showing that it indeed had some height. Upon examining SAR imagery of the site, we noticed that the hangar was actually much shorter than we originally thought and that we had overestimated it’s length based on the size of the pad around it. With the dimensions we now had, it was almost a perfect match for facilities in Turkey (fig. 4).
Figure 4: Graphic of the site showing the differences between visual and SAR images
A Jane’s article that we found also describes the TB2s participation in exercise Al Adheed 2020, noting that the aircraft appeared to perform “precision strikes during live firing at the Qurayn Abu al-Bawl training area in the south of the country.” When this information is compared to the ADSB track in fig. 1, we can establish that the aircraft we identified was also operating over Qurayn Abu al-Bawl training area before returning to the airbase. The Jane’s article also informs us that the drone was taxiing to “A newly paved runway”. Of all the runways in Qatar we examined, the one at this airbase is the newest.
While examining the airfield closely, we identified three suspected ground control station (GCS) trucks parked at the base; the same amount delivered to Qatar and of the same colour and general specifications (fig 5). The Bayraktar website indicated that the GCS was built according to the NATO ACE III shelter specifications. That, combined with the length of the cab of the Mercedes Actros MP4, gave us our approximate length for the total GCS vehicle.
Figure Five: GCS Trucks at the Airbase
With this knowledge, we were able to make the assessment that most likely the base is host to most if not all of Qatar’s six TB2 drones. The timeframe between the base starting construction, the order for the drones and the youth of the runway, the similarities between the layout and design of the hanger to known bases in Turkey, the presence of GCS trucks as well as the ADSB track passing over a known training area for the TB2 before returning home led us to make this conclusion. We cannot confirm this 100% unless we were to find additional evidence, such as an image of a TB2 at the airbase.
https://www.yenisafak.com/foto-galeri/ekonomi/turkiyenin-savasan-yerli-ve-milli-silahlari-siha-2032666?page=4 Displays 5 TB2s inside a large hangar, of roughly the same dimensions as our large hangar.