Turkey has completely left behind its external dependency on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) technologies and now produces platforms that are among the best in the world, the chief technology officer (CTO) of the drone magnate Baykar said in a recent interview.
Selçuk Bayraktar, in an interview with Qatar-based Al Jazeera television, commented on Turkey's domestic technology, the country's development story of UAVs and its role in the new generation of UAVs.
Bayraktar, who stated that they took the first step with a small project to produce aircraft that can fly automatically, said that they first started the construction of UAVs in a small workshop.
He recalled that the first aircraft they produced were small planes that could stay in the air for one hour and fly a distance of just 15 kilometers (9.3 miles).
Stating that they started the now world-renowned Bayraktar TB2 unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) project in 2010, Bayraktar said that this particular drone joined the Turkish Armed Forces' (TSK) inventory in 2014 as a result of the work of the Undersecretariat of Defense Industry, which has now become the Presidency of Defense Industries (SSB).
"The TB2s were successful in the fight against terrorism (within Turkey) and counterterrorism operations outside of Turkey," Bayraktar said.
The combat drones were used against the PKK terrorist threat within and outside Turkish borders, as well as against Daesh terrorists in Syria.
Another UCAV project by the Baykar company, Akıncı, Turkey’s most advanced drone to date, started in 2016, Bayraktar went on to say. This model is much larger than the world-renowned Bayraktar TB2s.
Akıncı UCAVs have very high power, allowing them to fulfill strategic missions, carry cruise missiles and engage in aerial combat while being operated via satellite, the company's CTO said.
Commenting further on how the country started its journey to produce UCAVs with domestic resources, Bayraktar said the country used to buy UAVs from Israel, "but planes from abroad could not take off and land automatically, and Israeli pilots used to lift and land the drones with a manual control device."
Bayraktar said that starting with smaller-volume UAVs, Turkey developed the software within the country that allowed automatic landing and takeoff of planes.
Stating that the TB2 is the most famous UAV model in the world and have been sold to 16 countries, Bayraktar said, "TB2s can stay in the air for 27 hours, have a range of hundreds of kilometers, can carry 130 kilograms (287 pounds) and are equipped with highly sensitive intelligent military equipment."
Referring to the other features of Turkish UAVs, Bayraktar stated that they are difficult to detect via radar and that they have achieved great success against tanks and defense systems, for example in Syria's Idlib and Azerbaijan's Karabakh region.
In massive retaliatory strikes and artillery shelling in Idlib during a regime attack in February 2020 that killed 33 Turkish soldiers and injured tens of others in the area, Turkey used its domestic UAVs to strike everything from tanks to howitzers and Russian-made air defense systems.
At least 2,200 Syrian regime troops, a drone, eight helicopters, 103 tanks, tens of howitzers and three air defense systems were neutralized, according to the Defense Ministry statements at the time.
Domestic drones provided surveillance and Close Air Support (CAS), and destroyed the regime targets with locally produced smart ammunition either being delivered by the drones or from afar with their guidance due to Syrian air space’s being close to Turkish F-16s.
Later, the Bayraktar TB2s were used by Azerbaijan’s army in their fight to retake occupied Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenian forces, again leaving no room for heavy military gear, including tanks, howitzers and Russian air defense systems to escape.
The drones were hailed as giving Baku the upper hand in liberating its lands.
Bayraktar further said on "the secret of the transformation of Turkey's defense industry in the last 20 years" that it is the "dedication to work and willingness to get rid of foreign dependency."
Underlining that the country was dependent on foreign suppliers for 85% of supplies for the defense industry in the past, Bayraktar stated that Turkey has now become self-sufficient.
All business designs and main components were developed in the country, Bayraktar emphasized, reiterating that Turkey no longer has foreign dependency on securing materials or main components for defense industry products.
Bayraktar pointed out that the world drone industry was previously dominated by the United States, China and Israel, but Turkey is in the top three now.
"Europe does not have platforms comparable to Turkey, currently Turkish UCAVs are being exported to European countries," he also said.
Among the European Union member countries that are interested in Turkish combat drones, Poland has already signed a contract for the purchase of Bayraktar TB2s, becoming the first NATO member country to acquire the Turkish drones. First shipments will arrive in 2022.
Latvia later hinted that it could be the second EU and NATO member state to purchase the Turkish UCAVs that have scored high-profile successes in the field.