As Turkey’s elite air squadron painted the crescent moon and star of the national flag in the sky over Ankara, Turks on the ground jostled to take photos with Selcuk Bayraktar, the man they call the hero who turned the country into a key global supplier of lethal combat assets. . drones.
Bayraktar is also President Recep Erdogan’s son-in-law, and there, on the tarmac of the military base, his company Baykar unveiled its new generation of unmanned fighter jets that will fly faster and farther and carry more weapons than existing planes.
The new generation of unmanned aerial vehicles reflects the growing ambitions of the company, which is strengthening itself abroad after Ukraine successfully used its TB2 drones to combat Russian forces.
In recent years, Baykar has become a key part of Erdogan’s push to build a self-sufficient defense industry with products ranging from armed drones to fighter jets and warships. All of these measures are aimed at supporting his increasingly aggressive foreign policy in the conflict-ravaged region. But since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, foreign drone sales have also increased, giving Turkey greater political influence outside the Middle East.
In a rare interview at an air base outside Ankara, Bayraktar, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, described his ambitions to further expand the company’s capabilities and international sales to increase Turkey’s influence abroad. . Bayraktar will soon begin mass production of at least one of two advanced drones that will take off from Turkey’s newly built TCG Anadolu mini aircraft carrier. At the same time, it seeks to expand its market share from Africa to Europe and Asia with the existing TB2 and Akinci unmanned combat vehicles, as well as the new TB3 and Kizilelma.
The new drones will “revolutionize” Turkey’s military influence from the Black Sea and Caucasus to the eastern Mediterranean and the coast of North Africa, said Bayraktar, chief technology officer of the company founded by her father and controlled by her family. “They will allow Turkey to monitor and determine precise attacks on the continents, thanks to the increase in flight time and radius of action.”
Baykar says it sells its flagship TB2 aircraft in 31 countries. Although these sales are mainly to developing countries, they represent a jump from the one or two foreign buyers four years ago.
“TB2 sales have increased rapidly in recent years,” says Peter Wezeman, senior researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). “One after another, countries are ordering many different sizes.”
Turkey’s use of drones highlights the evolution of the war in one of the most volatile regions in the world. Drones have turned the tide of Ankara’s decades-long fight against the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party in the country’s southeast, northern Iraq and Syria. Relatively cheap to build and operate, the planes have in recent years helped turn conflicts in countries as far away as Azerbaijan and Libya in favor of Turkey’s allies.
Even outside the Middle East, Turkish drones are likely to be particularly valuable to countries outside NATO or that cannot obtain them from the United States or Israel for political or financial reasons. According to Fabian Hintz, a defense expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, the new drones will reinforce the country’s reputation as a provider of high-quality military equipment at affordable prices, a position Turkey occupies among a handful of countries. producing advanced equipment. drones.
“Whether you are an ally of the United States or you have problems with them, you can buy (Turkish drones) at almost no political cost,” Hintz says. “Turkey also seems more open to technology transfer and creating the conditions for local licensed manufacturing, something other manufacturers find harder to do.”
The company made 82 percent of its profits from exports over the past two decades, Bayraktar said, adding that production capacity has increased by 50 percent over the past year.
Bayraktar faces many challenges to realize its greatest ambitions. The United States, Israel and China remain the world’s largest drone suppliers. Furthermore, the performance of the devices offered by Bayraktar is far from comparable to those produced in countries like the United States, says SIPRI’s Wesman. However, Turkish drones are sold at a fraction of the price.
“Turkey’s rise as a supplier of armed drones is notable,” says Wesman. “And there is no doubt that this is part of the rapid development of Turkey’s arms industry, of Turkey’s role as an arms exporter and of Turkey’s efforts to become a regional power.”
Baykar was founded in 1986 by Selçuk’s father Özdemir as a machinery manufacturing company. Mais Selcuk a montré un intérêt pour l’aviation dès son enfance et lorsqu’il a rejoint l’entreprise en 2007, il a commencé à se concentrer sur les équipements militaires, en développant des avions de combat sans pilote et des systèmes de contrôle au floor. In 2016 he married the president’s daughter, Sumeye.
Then in 2019, the United States imposed sanctions on Turkey over its acquisition of S-400 missile defense systems from Russia. Sanctions have prevented Turkey from working on and receiving Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 stealth fighter jets.
This has accelerated Turkey’s efforts to develop its own unmanned fighter jet, with Erdogan supporting technological development at his son-in-law’s company as well as state-owned Turkish aerospace industries. The constant increase in exports has allowed them to invest more in research and exploration.
Local media speculate that Bayraktar may have a future in the country’s politics. It is a delicate topic that is almost never addressed directly. “We will fight to the end to realize the ideal of a national technology movement,” Bayraktar said in an interview with a Turkish news agency last month. “We will do everything that is necessary and demands the fight. In other words, if the struggle requires politics, we will not fear it or abstain from it.
He and his father-in-law share an ambition to turn Turkey into a self-sufficient military power capable of overtaking regional rivals such as Iran and Greece. To this end, Erdogan is forging uneasy new alliances, particularly with Vladimir Putin, and these relationships are at times testing Turkey’s position within NATO.
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