Success of Turkish drones in Ukraine paves way for Asia tour

A new baby lemur born at Kyiv Zoo in Ukraine’s capital has been named ‘Bayraktar’, mayor and former heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko announced in a Telegram post earlier this month.

The stripe-tailed lemur was named after the Turkish-made drone that is once again in the global spotlight for its battlefield success. As in Azerbaijan, Syria and Libya, videos of the armed Bayraktar TB2 destroying Russian tanks, armored vehicles and surface-to-air missile defense systems have been widely shared on social media.

Bayraktar is the family name behind Baykar Defense, the maker of the drone. CTO Selcuk Bayraktar is the son-in-law of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Although the Turkish drones were ultimately unable to repel a prolonged Russian assault, the fact that they inflicted pain on the invading convoys surprised military analysts. Although the TB2 wiped out Armenian tanks in Azerbaijan in 2020, experts doubted the drone could also be successful against a modern army like Russia’s.

This article is from Nikkei Asia, a global publication with a unique Asian perspective on politics, economics, business and international affairs. Our own correspondents and outside commentators from around the world share their views on Asia, while our Asia300 section provides in-depth coverage of 300 of the largest and fastest growing listed companies in 11 economies outside of Japan. .

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This should be a boon for the company’s sales down the road. Since the drone was first exported to Qatar in 2018, the TB2 has secured 19 export deals, including to Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan. Six new offers have been added in the last three months alone.

Today, the Turkish drone industry has its sights set on Asia.

“China will not be willing to sell drones to many Asian countries in its neighborhood and we supply these countries [with] a better option,” Haluk Bayraktar, managing director of Baykar Defense and older brother of Selcuk, told Nikkei Asia. “They show a lot of interest.”

Baykar is currently working on a next-generation TB3 drone that can take off and land from aircraft carriers, helicopter landing docks (LHD) or LHD-class ships. It plans to unveil the first TB3 in 2022 before commissioning TCG Anadolu, Turkey’s first LHD-class ship, by the end of the year.

Ismail Demir, a senior Turkish official overseeing the defense industry, told local media that the TCG Anadolu would be designed to hold 50 to 110 drones, depending on the configuration.

Three Bayraktar TB3 on the deck of the TCG Anadolu vessel at sea

Artist’s impression of the Bayraktar TB3 operating on the TCG Anadolu © Baykar Defense

Haluk Bayraktar sees the potential for drone customers in Asia.

“The next TB3 will be a great fit for Japan’s Izumo-class platforms,” ​​he said, referring to the country’s multipurpose destroyer, which analysts call a de facto aircraft carrier. The drone’s folded wings will allow a carrier to hold more than a fixed-wing aircraft.

“Japan should get armed drones as soon as possible,” he added.

The Japanese destroyer Izumo at sea with crew on board

The Japanese multipurpose destroyer Izumo. Haluk Bayraktar says the TB3 drone will be a perfect fit for the ship © Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force

Baykar is not the only Turkish drone manufacturer. Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), another major defense company, in November reached a basic agreement with Kazakhstan for its Anka drones.

At the end of March, TAI will attend the 17th Defense Service Asia Exhibition and Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where it will compete with countries such as China and the United States to win bids for drones.

Sensing an opportunity, TAI opened an office in Selangor last November, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. It’s part of a push into Asian markets. Last month, the company opened a large booth at the Singapore Airshow, showcasing its drone technology and other key products.

The Aksungur, TAI’s next-generation armed drone, which joined the Turkish army’s inventory last year, can fly for 50 hours and offers sonobuoy options, which is rare for a drone. Equipped with advanced detectors and sensors, it can perform anti-submarine warfare and maritime patrol missions, which is very suitable for Indo-Pacific countries.

Ozgur Guleryuz, managing director of STM, another Turkish defense contractor, told Nikkei Asia that his company will attend the Malaysian defense expo with a range of products including the Kargu rotary-wing attack drone.

“We are seeing interest in our ammunition lying around, including Kargu, from Asia and are currently in contact with various Asian countries,” Guleryuz told Nikkei Asia.

In July, STM announced its first Kargu exports to an unspecified country. The drone has been used by the Turkish army since 2018.

A Kargu drone made by defense contractor STM

STM’s Kargu drones are used by the Turkish armed forces © STM

Meanwhile, Oryx, a blog that covers the international defense sector, reported that Malaysia and Indonesia are interested in Turkish drones. One of its authors, Stijn Mitzer, wrote in January that Indonesia would consider landing platform helicopters (LPH) for the next decade and that the Bayraktar TB3, with its folding wings, could “provide Indonesia its first [unmanned] aircraft carrier”.

Mitzer said the combination of low-cost LPHs and drones “could open up entirely new possibilities for the Indonesian Navy.”

If Indonesia were to buy the Akinci drones from Baykar or Aksungur from TAI, it would provide the Southeast Asian nation with “a long-range strike asset”, he added.

Lalu Muhamad Iqbal, Indonesia’s ambassador to Ankara, told a Turkish defense industry website in November: “We are talking about the possibility of acquiring drones from Turkey. We hope that the cooperation will not be limited to supply, but [to] also secure technology transfer and inclusion for future drone programs.

According to Arda Mevlutoglu, an independent defense industry analyst, Turkish combat-tested drones – with an export policy without political strings attached – are helping Turkey boost its drone sales. Turkey’s openness to sharing certain technologies through joint production options is also appreciated by customers, he added.

All eyes are on Ukraine.

Can Kasapoglu, director of the security and defense studies program at Turkey’s leading think tank Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM), said video footage suggested Ukraine used the drones primarily to strike Russian supply lines in order to disrupt their operation.

He noted that with Ukraine’s current drone inventory, which is said to number around 20 units, they cannot stop large armored divisions or brigades on their own.

“If Ukraine had used a large number of Akinci, equipped with heavier ammunition, it might have turned out differently,” Kasapoglu said, referring to Baykar’s next-generation upgraded drones. With a wingspan of 20 meters, the Akinci can fly up to 40,000 feet and carry a total payload of 1.5 tons, including weapons, cameras and sensors, which is 10 times more capacity than the TB2. .

Haluk Bayraktar told Nikkei Asia that the Akinci brings Baykar’s capabilities to the US MQ-9 Reaper class of drones. Even better than that, he claimed, noting that the company’s new drones are equipped with superior artificial intelligence.

The TB2 has a maximum airtime of 27 hours and can fly to an altitude of 25,000 feet, carrying locally produced laser-guided bombs. Baykar said the company exported $664 million worth of armed and unarmed drones last year.

A Western Baykar competitor told Agence France-Presse that the TB2 was comparable to the AK-47 rifle. “Turkey has reinvented the Kalashnikov for the 21st century,” the contestant said, referring to the famous Soviet rifle that became a weapon of choice for many conflicts around the world.

A Baykar source told Nikkei Asia that the TB2 had accumulated 430,000 flight hours. Especially after the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia in 2020, when the Azerbaijani army used precision strikes on a daily basis during the 44-day war, many Asian countries showed interest in drones, the source said. .

A version of this article was first published by Nikkei Asia on March 8. ©2022 Nikkei Inc. All rights reserved.

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