The Turkish drone industry is soaring to new heights, thanks to the record-breaking order for its advanced Akinci drone from Saudi Arabia. This deal, which is being touted as the “largest ever,” is a testament to the global popularity of the Bayraktar TB2 drone.
The historic defense contract was inked on July 18, marking a significant victory for Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. This deal is a direct result of his diplomatic efforts to improve relations with Gulf nations and bolster Ankara’s struggling economy.
The signing ceremony was graced by key figures including Erdogan, Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, and representatives from Baykar, the Turkish defense company, and the Saudi Defense Ministry. This landmark deal was a highlight of Erdogan’s diplomatic tour of the Gulf region which commenced on July 17.
The Akinci, aptly named “Raider” in Turkish, is a high-altitude, long-endurance Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) equipped for air-to-ground and air-to-air combat missions.
The anticipation was tangible for Baykar, as evidenced by a celebratory tweet from the company’s CEO, Haluk Bayraktar. He termed the agreement with the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Defense as the “biggest defense and aviation export contract” in history.
Baykar’s statement highlighted the technology transfer and joint production aspects of the agreement, emphasizing its potential to enhance the technological prowess of both nations.
Moreover, Bayraktar disclosed to Turkish media that another “massive” agreement for the purchase of smart munitions and other payloads from Turkey is in the pipeline, and it will involve local production.
Beyond being the CEO, Bayraktar also shares a familial connection with the company as President Erdogan’s son-in-law, Selcuk Bayraktar, serves as the chairman. In recent times, Baykar has earned global acclaim for its battle-tested armed drones, notably the Bayraktar TB2, which has demonstrated its mettle in Azerbaijan and Ukraine.
The Turkish drone industry has experienced a significant surge in technological progress and manufacturing capabilities over the past few years. As per Baykar’s records, the company’s exports amounted to $1.18 billion, and it generated a revenue of $1.4 billion in the previous year.
This latest contract is a significant achievement for Turkey, especially considering President Erdogan’s pledge in August 2021 to establish Turkey as a global leader in drone technology during the induction of the first Akinci Unmanned Aerial Combat Vehicle (UCAV) into service.
The rising tension between Russia and Ukraine underscores the increasingly critical role of drone warfare in modern combat. This is not lost on Saudi Arabia, a nation residing in an unstable region.
Emerging as a pioneer in cutting-edge drone technology, Turkey has been showcasing its combat Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) globally. With the triumph of TB2, focus has now shifted to the more formidable and battle-ready drone, Akinci.
Spotlight on Turkey’s Akinci Drone
Akinci, a military-grade drone, boasts of impressive dimensions, with a length of 12.2 meters, a height of 4.1 meters, and a wingspan of 20 meters. It has a takeoff weight of 5,500 kilograms and can carry a maximum payload of 1,350 kilograms, soaring up to an altitude of 40,000 feet (12,192 meters).
The Akinci outclasses its predecessor, the Bayraktar TB2, in terms of combat payload capacity. Military experts suggest that this increase could enable the Akinci to deploy more powerful weapons and versatile operational strategies. The drone has already exceeded expectations in terms of performance.
In a landmark achievement last year, the Akinci successfully launched Turkey’s first air-to-ground supersonic missile, the TRG-230, hitting a target over 100 kilometers (62 miles) away. This has made the Akinci the only UAV capable of launching a ballistic supersonic missile from air to ground.
Shortly after this feat, the drone underwent a firing test with a next-generation guidance kit. The Akinci accurately dropped a 1,000-pound (455-kilogram) MK-83 bomb fitted with the Gökçe guidance system onto the designated target.
The Akinci has since taken part in a test with an Aselsan laser guidance kit, striking the target with flawless precision. The laser guidance system was used in conjunction with an MK-82 bomb manufactured by Aselsan during this trial.
Beyond its advanced radar and precision munition capabilities, the UCAV can also serve as a mothership for drone-swarm attacks. For example, in 2019, Prof. Ismail Demir, the director of Turkey’s Presidency of Defense Industries (SSB), shared a simulation of the indigenous ‘Alpagu’ kamikaze drones being launched by the Akinci drone on his Twitter account. Earlier this year, BulgarianMilitary.com reported speculations of the drone becoming the world’s first to be equipped with an AESA radar.
A Turkish Twitter account that frequently shares updates about the Turkish military stated: “AKINCI will be the first UAV in the world to carry AESA radar and beyond-sight air-to-air missiles. In the test shot from AKINCI, the target over 100 kilometers was hit with Turkey’s first supersonic missile TRG-230-iHA.” The UCAV was also procured by Pakistan, a long-time ally of the Turkish defense industry, earlier this year.
The affordability and proven combat effectiveness of Turkish drones have been key selling points. With Saudi Arabia’s recent purchase, it’s likely that the drone’s popularity will skyrocket in the affluent yet turbulent Gulf region.