Last year, Selcuk Bayraktar helped resolve conflicts in Libya and Azerbaijan, thousands of kilometers from his home in Turkey.
Bayraktar, a former MIT research student married to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s youngest daughter, has been instrumental in Turkey’s emergence as a producer of armed drones. In 2020, the TB2 drones of his company Baykar were used to devastating effect by the governments of Tripoli and Baku, both Turkish allies.
The 41-year-old, whose last name means “standard-bearer,” shares Erdogan’s ambition to make Turkey’s projection of military power more self-sufficient. They are leading a push for the homegrown uniform that is launching Ankara into uneasy new alliances and shaky ties with traditional NATO partners.
“Our air vehicles are admired around the world,” Erdogan said in January. “Turkish armed UAVs are changing the methods of warfare and turned the tide of the war in Libya.” He later tapped into data showing seven Turkish defense companies in the world’s top 100, up from two in 2016.
Bayraktar also likes to wrap himself in the flag. When some Turks pointed to his privileged position and Baykar’s use of some imported parts, including engines, he tweeted that the drones “are not the groom’s”, but the nation’s, and “they will fly whether you want it or not!” Aircraft components, he said, are 93% made in Turkey. Baykar did not respond to an email seeking comment.
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The intention is unmistakable, but so are the risks. Turkey’s interventionist foreign policy and pursuit of elite military technology, whatever that may be, could leave Ankara in a transactional no-man’s-land.
The United States sanctioned Turkey and excluded it from Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 aircraft program for purchasing a Russian missile system, a deal Turkey hoped would include technology transfer. UK and Canadian companies stopped supplying drone components once concerns were raised about how and where the planes were being used.
Turkish engineers are scrambling to develop domestic tank engines as well as the experimental TF-X fighter after delays in a deal with Britain’s Rolls-Royce, but it is an expensive undertaking with no guarantee of early success.
“Turkey is fast becoming a market leader and an emerging powerhouse in lethal drone technology,” he said. Raluca Csernatoni, visiting researcher at Carnegie Europe. “This is part of a broader and ongoing effort to develop a self-sufficient defense industry and President Erdogan’s stated ambition to reduce Turkey’s dependence on foreign weapons systems. However, it is easier said than done, ”he said, citing the Canadian decision to walk away from cooperation.
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Erdogan curbed the influence of the generals in defense purchases, taking direct control of the procurement agency and aligning it with companies close to the government. The change created jobs and boosted military exports, which topped $ 2 billion last year, led by armored vehicles and ships. In the drone market, Turkey is still a minor player compared to the US, China and Israel.
Over the past two decades, only the United Arab Emirates have risen further up the arms supplier table compiled by SIPRI, which investigates global arms spending. Turkey’s overall spending on defense equipment has risen sharply, but imports fell 59% from 2016 to 2020 compared to the previous five-year period. That includes the suspended deliveries of the F-35.
Turkish drones (Baykar has competition from Turkish Aerospace Industries Inc.) also stopped a breakthrough by Russian-backed government forces in Syria last year.
It was the kind of operation that brings pride to nationalist politicians and voters who have joined the president.
They bitterly recall a U.S. arms embargo imposed after Turkey captured the northern third of Cyprus in 1974, as well as back-to-back decisions in 2015 by the United States and Germany to withdraw air defenses. The cuts, which came as Turkey and a US-led coalition were preparing for joint airstrikes against the Islamic State, came as a surprise to Ankara, which saw them as punishment for the crackdown on Kurdish separatists who had reacted to the collapse of the efforts. of peace with attacks.
In once friendly western capitals, Turkey’s shares fell further as the war in Syria, migration, human rights and the aftermath of a failed 2016 coup frayed ties.
Turkish leaders increasingly insist that traditional allies no longer have the backing of the country. The condemnation is behind attempts at defense cooperation with countries like Russia and Pakistan, despite threats from US sanctions that have periodically caused Turkish markets to crash and contributed to a currency crisis in 2018.
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Turkey has asked Moscow to sell Su-35 fighter jet platforms so that local engineers can install Turkish-made avionics; and sought to co-produce fighter jets and missiles with Pakistan, a connection that could also give Ankara access to China’s prized war technology, according to people familiar with the discussions. Neither set of talks has been successful, they said.
South Korea intervened this year to supply engines for Turkey’s Altay battle tank after political disputes thwarted plans to source them from Germany. But the policy has been shelved for other deals: Middle East rival Saudi Arabia is reported to have bought Turkish drones, which are cheaper than its main competitors.
Ankara says it wants to preserve established ties with the West, but disputes are mounting.
It is exploring legal action to recover around $ 1.4 billion paid for the planned purchase of around 100 F-35s. And he’s looking for fights with members of the European Union even as he pursues co-production of European-made air defenses.
An amphibious assault ship, the TCG Anadolu, is being converted into an aircraft carrier and is adding to Turkey’s flotilla in the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas, where tensions are rising over territorial divisions with Greece and Cyprus. It will be equipped with helicopters and up to 50 state-of-the-art Bayraktar TB3 drones, and is expected to be the first model powered by Turkish-made engines.