Turkey shows off its combat drones in Azerbaijan

Turkish Air Force fighters draw the crescent and star of the Turkish flag in the sky during the inauguration of the Aerospace and Technology Exhibition “Teknofest”, on May 27, 2022 in Baku, in Azerbaijan (-/AFP)

At the speed of lightning the drones rise then dive in a swoop in the sky of Baku, applauded by an elated crowd.

Turkey is exhibiting this week at its regional ally, Azerbaijan, its combat drones which have established their reputation in several areas of conflict, especially in Ukraine where a song has been dedicated to them.

The aerospace and technology fair “Teknofest”, held since 2018 in Turkey, is being held this year in the capital of Azerbaijan, a sign of strong ties between the two countries.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will also go there on Saturday.

Photo released by Baykar Defense on May 27, 2022 of Selcuk Bayraktar, son-in-law of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and technical director of the Baykar company, at the controls of an Azerbaijani Air Force Mikoyan MiG-29, on May 24, 2022 in Baku
Photo released by Baykar Defense on May 27, 2022 of Selcuk Bayraktar, son-in-law of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and technical director of the Baykar company, at the controls of an Azerbaijani Air Force Mikoyan MiG-29, on May 24, 2022 in Baku (Handout / BAYKAR DEFENSE/AFP)

On Wednesday, his son-in-law, Selcuk Bayraktar, technical director of the Baykar company, designer of the TB2 combat drones, flew over Baku aboard an Azerbaijani Air Force Mikoyan MiG-29.

The video showing him in a pilot’s suit with the Turkish and Azerbaijani flags at the controls of the jet, escorted by one of his drones, the Akinci model, has gone viral on social networks in Turkey.

In 2019, Turkish drones saved the legal government in Libya from Marshal Haftar’s offensives in Libya, before proving decisive for Azerbaijan at the end of 2020 in Nagorny-Karabakh, against Armenia.

A Turkish Akinci drone escorts a Mikoyan MiG-29 jet piloted by Selcuk Bayraktar, son-in-law of Turkish President Erdogan and technical director of the Baykar company, on May 24, 2022 in Baku, Azerbaijan
A Turkish Akinci drone escorts a Mikoyan MiG-29 jet piloted by Selcuk Bayraktar, son-in-law of Turkish President Erdogan and technical director of the Baykar company, on May 24, 2022 in Baku, Azerbaijan ( Handout / BAYKAR DEFENSE/AFP )

In Iraq and Syria, Ankara uses them against the Syrian forces – supported by Moscow – in Idleb (north-west) and against the Islamic State (IS) group and the Kurdish fighters of the PKK.

The embargoes imposed by NATO allies on Turkey, including the United States, have pushed Ankara “to take its destiny into its own hands”, a senior Turkish defense industry official told AFP. in Baku.

“Precision and Lethality”

Turkey has thus sought to modernize its air force after being excluded from the American F-35 fighter jet program, a consequence of Ankara’s purchase of the Russian S-400 anti-missile system, perceived as a threat. for the F-35.

In April, the US administration said supplying Turkey with F-16 fighter jets would serve Washington’s strategic interests.

A Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drone on display at Teknofest on May 27, 2022 in Baku, Azerbaijan
A Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drone on display at the Teknofest trade show on May 27, 2022 in Baku, Azerbaijan (- / AFP)

“Turkish drones such as the Bayraktar TB2 are increasingly widespread and increasingly important in modern conflicts,” notes Michael Boyle, drone specialist at Rutgers University (United States).

For a long time, the main drone-exporting countries, such as the United States and Israel, limited the number of countries to which they sold them, as well as the models they were ready to market, recalls Mr. Boyle.

“It created an air gap that other countries, including Turkey and China, wanted to fill.”

Turkey has been investing in the defense industry since the 2000s, but the turning point dates back to 2014, with heavy investments in advanced technologies and the switch to the use of locally manufactured products, underlines the senior Turkish official.

Turkish defense technology exports, which were less than $250 million at the start of 2000, exceeded $3 billion in 2021 and are expected to reach $4 billion in 2022, the same source estimates.

Today, Turkey exports its relatively cheap drones to more than 25 countries, especially in Africa.

Admiringly, a Western competitor estimated at the start of the conflict in Ukraine that with its drones, Turkey had “reinvented the + kalach + of the 21st century” – a reference to the universal AK47 assault rifle, cheap and easy to use.

“These drones can be used for direct strikes, in particular against insurgents or terrorist groups, but also as a battlefield reconnaissance tool to increase the precision and lethality of strikes”, explains Michael Boyle.

“They are an enabler of ground forces, which makes them particularly useful for countries.”

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