Turkish defense firm Baykar has delivered 20 of its pioneering armed drones to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) this month and could sell more, two sources said Wednesday, as a diplomatic detente between the former regional rivals expands into military contracts.
International demand for Baykar’s drones soared after their impact in conflicts in Syria, Ukraine and Libya, where their laser-guided armor-piercing bombs helped repel an offensive by UAE-supported forces two years ago.
Now the United Arab Emirates and its ally Saudi Arabia are hoping to benefit from their rapprochement with Türkiye to counter a growing security challenge from Iran and its proxy forces, military sources say.
Both Gulf Arab oil states have faced drone attacks on cities and oil facilities that they blamed on Iran-aligned Houthi rebels in Yemen.
A Turkish source with knowledge of the talks said Abu Dhabi and Riyadh were negotiating to acquire Bayraktar TB2 unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) from Ankara. “They decided during the negotiations with the UAE to quickly deliver 20 armed drones,” the source told Reuters, adding they were transferred earlier this month.
A separate report earlier this month suggested UAE’s talks with Baykar were focused on a supply of up to 120 Bayraktar drones.
A senior Turkish official on Wednesday confirmed that Türkiye has delivered some drones and that the UAE was seeking more. Saudi Arabia also wanted to buy armed drones and set up a factory to manufacture them, the official said.
The official said Baykar was considering the Saudi request for a manufacturing plant but said that was a strategic decision for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and that other issues, such as Saudi investments in Türkiye, “are not moving as fast as possible.”
Baykar’s only other production facilities outside Türkiye are being built in Ukraine, where Bayraktar TB2s helped undermine Russia’s overwhelming military superiority in the weeks following Moscow’s February invasion.
Baykar’s battlefield successes have helped it spearhead Türkiye’s lucrative military exports drive. CEO Haluk Bayraktar, who runs the company with his brother Selçuk, who is the chief technology officer (CTO), said last month Baykar had signed export contracts for the TB2 with 22 countries.
It currently produces 20 Bayraktar TB2 drones a month, he told a Ukrainian military services foundation in August, and its order book for those drones and other models was full for the next three years.
It is now aiming to further expand its production capacity, a target that it in part hopes to achieve with the plant in Ukraine. Baykar currently has a capacity to manufacture 200 TB2s a year, its CEO said. It seeks to raise this figure to 500.
“There are requests for armed drones from many countries and regions,” the senior Turkish official said. “Some countries that have bought them are making additional demands. They are very satisfied with the results... but it is technically not possible to meet all demand.”
“The Saudis and the UAE want to dismantle the effectiveness of the Iranian drones. If they get the TB2 they will be able to ... stop the flow of Iranian drones,” a Western military source said.