Turkish defence firm to test sea-based drones as orders swell

300

The Turkish defence company whose armed drones were decisive in conflicts in Azerbaijan and Libya will soon test-fly two new unmanned aircraft that will extend Turkey’s drone capabilities from land-based to naval operations, its CEO said on Wednesday.

Haluk Bayraktar, one of two engineer brothers running the defence firm Baykar, said the new aircraft would be tested in the next two years and would be able to take off from a Turkish navy ship currently under production.

Turkey’s deployment of the company’s Bayraktar TB2 drone has been a major factor in conflict in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Azerbaijan, pushing Baykar into the spotlight and transforming it into a major manufacturer and exporter.

The firm has now signed export deals with 13 countries including a joint production deal with Ukraine, as its products help reshape the way modern wars are fought, Bayraktar said.

The scale of Turkey’s drone programme puts it in the world’s top four producers alongside the United States, Israel and China, analysts say.

“Smart, unmanned aircraft systems are the two leading technologies that changed the landscape for power projection,” he told Reuters on the sidelines of defence show in Istanbul.

“As everyone is talking about how drone technology is changing battle doctrines … one of our next objectives is the TB3 drone, capable of taking off from and landing on TCG Anadolu,” Bayraktar said, referring to a planned Turkish light aircraft carrier.

Although the ship will be able to carry combat helicopters on its landing deck, Turkey does not operate a plane that can take off from the vessel. The TB3, with a folding-wing design, could deploy from the short naval runways.

With some sections under production, it is expected to see first test flight next year, Bayraktar said.

It will be followed by an unmanned combat aircraft, called MUIS, with first prototype flight expected in 2023, he said. Currently in design phase, MUIS will be jet-powered, with a payload of up to 1.5 tons.

The autonomously manoeuvring craft will be capable of operating in tandem with piloted aircraft, and may carry air-to-air missiles, the company said.

Baykar, founded in the 1980s by Bayraktar’s father, began to focus on unmanned aircraft production in 2005 as Turkey sought to strengthen its local defence industry.

Now it is spearheading Turkey’s global defence export push. President Tayyip Erdogan, whose daughter is married to Baykar’s chief technology officer Selcuk Bayraktar, says international demand for TB2 and the newer Akinci drone is huge.

“Everywhere, even in my Africa trip, they want drones, armed drones and Akinci,” he told Baykar workers last month after returning from a trip to Angola, Togo and Nigeria. “The whole world … want to see and to know what you are doing.”

The first Akinci drone, which has longer flight time and can carry a larger payload than the TB2, was delivered to the Turkish military in August.

Despite the growing demand, the use of Turkish-made drones eastern Ukraine against Russian-backed militia has been criticised by the Kremlin. Planned sales to Ethiopia, mired in civil war and at odds with Egypt, has caused friction with Cairo.

Bayraktar said Turkey had made a “huge leap” in its effort to create its own defence industry over the last 20 years, expanding from 17 companies to nearly 17 000.

“The drone technology is just one success story born from the national and indigenous development drive,” he said. “We started to reap the benefits of work that began two decades ago only recently.”

Below is a list of some countries with TB2 drones in their inventories:

Azerbaijan

In Nagorno-Karabakh, the drones helped Turkey’s ally Azerbaijan defeat Armenia-backed forces. Turkey’s sales of drones and other military equipment rose to $77 million in September 2020 before fighting broke out in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Ethiopia

Sources familiar with the issue told Reuters that Ethiopia had requested purchases of the Bayraktar TB2 drones in agreements that could also include spare-part guarantees and training.

Kyrgyzstan

The armed forces ordered an unknown number of units. Delivery is pending according to Kamchybek Tashiev, chairman of the State Committee for National Security.

Libya

The Government of National Accord in Tripoli used TB2 drones in 2020 as part of their campaign to push back an assault on the city by eastern forces supported by Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

Morocco

According to local media reports in September, Morocco started receiving Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones out of an order of 13 units and four ground control stations.

Poland

Announced on 22 May it would buy 24 armed drones from Turkey with delivery due in 2022.

Qatar

The Qatar Air Force operate six drones as of 2021.

Turkmenistan

The central Asian Nation showcased its TB2 platform during the 30th year independence parade in September.

Ukraine

Kyiv is central in the development of the TB2 platform. In 2019 it signed an agreement for 12 drones with additional deliveries the following year. Ukraine is also developing a joint venture with Turkey to produce 48 drones.



The Ukrainian armed forces said they deployed the drone to force pro-Russian separatists to cease fire on 26 October.