Looping through the air at lightning speed, Turkish drones like those used against Russian forces in Ukraine cheer from the crowd at an air show in Azerbaijan.
Turkey is showcasing its defense technology at Technofest, the aerospace and technology festival that began in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku this week.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to attend on Saturday.
Turkey’s TB2 drone is manufactured by aerospace company Baykar Defense, where Erdogan’s chief son-in-law Selçuk Beraktar is chief technology officer.
On Wednesday, Bayraktar took off over Baku in a Mikoyan MiG-29 aircraft of the Azerbaijan Air Force. He had a combat drone, the Akinsei, with the flight.
A video showing Beraktar in command of a warplane wearing a pilot’s uniform adorned with patches of Turkish and Azerbaijani flags went viral on social media.
“It’s been a childhood dream for me,” Bayarktar told reporters after the flight.
proximity to ‘threats’
Turkish drones first gained attention in 2019 when they were used during the war in Libya to thwart an advance by rebel commander General Khalifa Haftar against the government in Tripoli.
They were put into action again the following year when Turkish-backed Azerbaijan captured most of the land lost to separatist Armenian forces in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Members of the Azerbaijani audience applaud during a demonstration of the TB2 drone at the Aviation Festival, which are now playing a major role against invading Russian forces in Ukraine.
A senior Turkish defense industry official said his country faces a broad spectrum of “threats”, including jihadists from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Islamic State group.
The PKK is listed as a terrorist group by Ankara and its Western allies.
But with NATO allies – including the United States – imposing sanctions on Turkey, Ankara was forced to take matters into its own hands to manufacture defense equipment, the official told AFP.
“The situation is changing now with the war in Ukraine,” the official said.
Turkey is looking to modernize its air force after being pulled out of the F-35 fighter jet program because of Russia’s purchase of the S-400 missile defense system.
But Ankara’s role in trying to end the Ukraine conflict through direct talks may have helped improve its ties with Washington over the past months.
In April, US President Joe Biden’s administration said it now believed supplying F-16 fighter jets to Turkey would serve Washington’s strategic interests.
export to 25 countries
Michael Boyle of Rutgers University-Camden in the United States said Turkish drones such as the Bayraktar TB2 drone “were increasingly important to modern conflicts because they have spread so widely.”
He told AFP that for years, major exporters such as the United States and Israel limited the number of countries they were willing to sell to, and those models as well.
“It marked a debut in the export market that other countries, notably Turkey and China, are set to fill,” the book’s author said. The Drone Age: How Drone Technology Will Change War and Peace,
The Turkish official said Turkey has been investing in the defense industry since the 2000s, but the real jump came in 2014 after serious investments in advanced technologies and a shift towards the use of locally manufactured goods.
He said Turkey’s exports of defense technologies stood at $248 million in early 2000, up from $3 billion in 2021 and expected to reach $4 billion in 2022.
Today Turkey exports its relatively cheap and effective drones to more than 25 countries.
Boyle said these drones could be used “for direct strikes, particularly against insurgent and terrorist forces, but also for battlefield reconnaissance to increase the accuracy and lethality of attacks.”
“So they are supportive of ground forces, and that makes them particularly useful for countries like Ukraine that are fighting a militarily superior enemy,” he said.