A Turkish company behind pioneering drones that earned fame for their critical role in several conflicts, including in Ukraine, is seeking to ramp up its production capacity to meet the orders piling up.
Baykar has signed deals to sell Bayraktar TB2 unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAV) to 24 countries and has reached a point where exports account for almost all of its revenues this year, its CEO Haluk Bayraktar said Thursday.
The platform is known for taking out some of the most advanced anti-aircraft systems and advanced artillery systems and armored vehicles – a capability it demonstrated in conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh as well as Ukraine.
The TB2 has been such a factor that it now spearheads Türkiye’s global defense export push.
“Bayraktar TB2 has become a sought-after product all over the world,” Bayraktar told Anadolu Agency (AA). “Export agreements have been signed with 24 countries. This is a huge deal. In four years, Bayraktar TB2 has become the most exported armed unmanned aerial vehicle system in the world,” he noted.
He was speaking on the sidelines of Teknofest, the country’s biggest aerospace and technology festival, held in the Black Sea province of Samsun.
It was not immediately clear whether Romania was among these countries, as it was suggested on Thursday to be looking to buy the drones. Media reports said Romania wants to purchase 18 TB2s in a deal estimated at around $300 million.
The demand for the drones has been so high that Bayraktar last month said the company had a three-year-long waitlist.
Baykar has also developed Akıncı UCAV, the most advanced and sophisticated drone built by Türkiye, and is working on multiple other landmark projects that include an unmanned fighter jet project called the Bayraktar Kızılelma.
The fighter’s prototype was completed in May 2021 and is being put on display at Teknofest for the first time. It is set to perform its maiden flight at the beginning of next year.
Bayraktar said Kızılelma would launch Türkiye to a “very different league.”
“Türkiye is great power in its region and a country that makes its projection in the global sense. Kızılelma will make a great contribution to this. Especially with artificial intelligence technology, air-to-air capabilities, it will carry us to a very important league,” he stressed.
Baykar has manufactured more than 400 TB2 and around 20 Akıncı drones to date, Bayraktar said.
The company is now aiming to further expand its production capacity, a target that it in part hopes to achieve with a plant in Ukraine, where it wants to assemble TB2 and Akıncı drones, as well as Kızılelma fighters.
Baykar currently has a capacity to manufacture 200 Bayraktar TB2s a year, its CEO said. It seeks to raise this figure to 500 for TB2s and reach a level where it produces 40 Akıncı drones a year, Bayraktar noted.
“We are trying to increase the production capacity by making huge investments every year,” he said.
“Our country has needs, but there has been a great demand for exports, especially in the recent period. For instance, in 2022, exports have constituted 98% of our sales,” he added. “In 2021, Baykar became the largest exporter of the defense and aerospace sector with a single product, Bayraktar TB2. We want to keep this pace, this momentum.”
Founded in the 1980s by Bayraktar’s father, Özdemir Bayraktar, Baykar began to focus on unmanned aircraft in 2005 as Türkiye sought to strengthen its local defense industry.
The company is working on a TB3, which is expected to feature foldable wings and have the capability to take off or land on short-runway aircraft carriers.
The Akıncı drone is longer and wider than the Bayraktar TB2, which has a 12-meter wingspan and can soar to 25,000 feet before swooping in to destroy tanks and artillery with laser-guided armor-piercing bombs.
Capable of performing strategic tasks, Akıncı has a 20-meter wingspan with its unique twisted-wing structure and is equipped with fully automatic flight control and a triple-redundant autopilot system.
It was first delivered to the Turkish security forces in late August last year. Baykar has signed export deals with four countries for the drone, Bayraktar said.
The drone can carry various weaponry, including a range of missiles such as Smart Micro Munitions (MAM-L) developed by prominent Turkish contractor Roketsan. It can be equipped with the locally produced active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and air-to-air missiles Gökdoğan (Merlin) and Bozdoğan (Peregrine).
It is also able to launch several other types of locally made munitions, such as the Roketsan-built Stand-Off Missile (SOM), a long-range air-to-surface cruise missile that can hit targets up to 240 kilometers (150 miles) away.
Baykar says the Akıncı can attack targets both in the air and on the ground. It can also operate alongside fighter jets and fly higher and stay in the air longer than Türkiye’s existing drones.
The Bayraktar Kızılelma is expected to have aggressive maneuverability, with a flight time of five hours and an operational altitude of 35,000 feet. It is projected to have the ability to land and take off from ships with short runways like the landmark TCG Anadolu, an assault ship of the Turkish Navy.