ISTANBUL (Aftenposten): As recently as November last year, it seemed that the war in Ethiopia was about to be decided. The rebels in the Tigray Liberation Front (TPLF) are moving ever closer to the capital Addis Ababa.
But then, just before Christmas, something happened.
In just a few years, Turkey has become one of the world’s leading manufacturers of drones. Just USA, China and Israel sells more.
The jewel in the crown is the so-called Bayraktar TB2. In the last two years, it has played a crucial role in several wars, including in Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh. Now it helps to increase the tension between Ukraine and Russia.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan brags unabashedly about Turkey’s drone program. Behind the success is his own son-in-law.
In 2005, Selçuk Bayraktar stood on a small airstrip surrounded by a group of men in suits from the Turkish defense industry.
The 26-year-old persuaded them to let him show them a drone he had built himself. His work had already been noticed at the renowned MIT University in Boston, where he had received a scholarship to take his second master’s degree.
– If Turkey supports this project, these drones, then in five years Turkey can easily be at the forefront of the world, said Bayraktar confidently.
It would take a little longer than he promised. But together with his brother, he put on all the cloths to develop a drone for the Turkish military. Through the family company Baykar, Bayraktar secured important contracts with Ankara.
Ten years later, he made an important breakthrough. In 2015, the company managed for the first time to fire a rocket from its most advanced model: Bayraktar TB2.
The following year, Selçuk Bayraktar married Erdoğan’s youngest daughter, Sümeyye.
Thanks to the Americans
The TB2 drone became a turning point. In May 2016, the head of the Turkish defense industry boasted that Turkey would no longer need American drones.
– I do not want to be sarcastic, but I would like to thank the United States for the projects they did not approve. It forced us to develop our own system, said Ismail Demir.
Over the next three years, Turkey’s air defense was expanded by 75 drones. They were quickly put into action against the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), which Ankara considers a terrorist organization.
And soon other countries began to register their interest.
Low cost drone
What makes the TB2 drone so popular? Experts point out several characteristics:
- It can fly 250 km per hour at an altitude of 8000 meters for up to 27 timer at a time.
- It has a wingspan of 12 meters and can carry up to 250 kg heavy load.
- It can both monitor and hit targets at a long distance.
But most important of all, is the price tag.
A TB2 drone costs 5 million dollars, around 44 million kroner. In comparison, an American Reaper drone costs around 282 million kroner.
This has made it particularly attractive for countries with smaller defense budgets, the newspaper writes The Guardian.
The war in Ethiopia is not the only one where the TB2 drone has had a major impact.
Turkey has also used the TB2 drones against Syrian government forces. Also in Libya, where Turkey supports the UN-recognized government in Tripoli, TB2 drones have been used to repel opponents.
But the one who boasts the most about Turkish drones is Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev.
He was among the first to buy TB2 when it was ready in 2015. In September 2020, the war in Nagorno-Karabakh flared up again.
Ali’s har claimed that Azerbaijan destroyed Armenian military equipment worth 8.8 billion Norwegian kroner with the help of drones. While the fighting was going on, Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense posted pictures from the drones’ cameras Twitter.
However, the use of drones in Nagorno-Karabakh did not only provide good PR for Erdoğan. Among other things, answered Canada by imposing a ban on the export of drone technology to Turkey.
These countries have bought drones
Nevertheless, the demand for the TB2 drone is greater than ever, according to Turkish authorities.
– Interest has increased especially after the operations in Idlib and Nagorno-Karabakh, Bayraktar said to Turkish press in autumn.
At least ten countries already have purchased TB2 drones, and almost as many will consider buying them. Several of the countries on the list are in Africa.
“Turkish drones are attractive to many African countries seeking combat-tested and relatively inexpensive hardware without too many commitments,” he writes. New York Times.
Erdoğan is pleased:
– Even in Africa, everywhere I go, they want drones, the president boasted in October.
But interest in the drones also offers new foreign policy challenges for the president.
Erdoğan has long had a delicate balance in relations with Russia and NATO.
When it became known that Ukraine had not only bought dozens of TB2 drones, but also entered into an agreement with Bayraktar for its own production, Russian reactions did not wait.
In a telephone conversation with Erdoğan in November, Russian President Vladimir Putin is said to have called the sales “provocative”. Still, at least 24 more drones are on their way to Ukraine, according to Bloomberg.
In Ethiopia, the drones have become so controversial that Turkey has had to move its embassy to Kenya, according to the website Al-Monitor. Since January is 108 people been killed in government airstrikes. This week published Politico images indicating that the TB2 drone was used in at least one of them.
But Turkey has no plans to give up here. Baykar recently announced that they are in the process of develop two new drones, which among other things can take off from warships.
Experts believe Turkish drones will change the land defense in the years ahead. Not least within Turkey’s own borders.
“Turkey stands out. Not only as one of the most advanced new developers of drones, but also as the only country that regularly uses them on its own territory, against its own population, “writes The Intercept.