Turkey showcases drones at Azerbaijan air show

Spinning through the air at lightning speed, Turkish drones like those used against Russian forces in Ukraine draw cheers from crowds at an air show in Azerbaijan.

Turkey is showcasing its defense technology at the “Teknofest” aerospace and technology festival which kicked off this week in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to attend on Saturday.

Turkey’s TB2 drones are manufactured by aerospace company Baykar Defense, where Erdogan’s increasingly prominent son-in-law Selcuk Bayraktar is chief technology officer.

Bayraktar flew over Baku on Wednesday in an Azerbaijani Air Force Mikoyan MiG-29 aircraft. One of its combat drones, the “Akinci”, accompanied the flight.

A video showing Bayraktar flying the fighter jet, dressed in a pilot’s uniform adorned with patches of the Turkish and Azerbaijani flags, has gone viral on social media.

“It was a childhood dream for me,” Bayraktar told reporters after the flight.

– Proximity to “threats” –

Turkish drones first attracted attention in 2019 when they were used during the war in Libya to thwart an advance by rebel commander General Khalifa Haftar against the government in Tripoli.

They were then brought into action again the following year when Turkish-backed Azerbaijan regained most of the land it had lost to Armenian separatist forces in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Azerbaijani spectators at the aviation festival cheered during a demonstration of TB2 drones, which now play a leading role against the invasion of Russian forces in Ukraine.

A senior Turkish defense industry official said his country faced a wide range of “threats”, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and jihadists from the Islamic State group.

The PKK is listed as a terrorist group by Ankara and its Western allies.

But with NATO allies – including the United States – having imposed embargoes on Turkey, Ankara was forced to take matters into its own hands to build defense equipment, the official told AFP.

“The situation is changing with the war in Ukraine,” the official said.

Turkey has sought to modernize its air force after being kicked out of the F-35 fighter jet program over its purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system.

But Ankara’s role in trying to mediate an end to the Ukrainian conflict through direct negotiations may have helped improve its relations with Washington in recent months.

In April, US President Joe Biden’s administration said it now believed supplying Turkey with F-16 fighter jets would serve Washington’s strategic interests.

– Exports to 25 countries –

Michael Boyle, from Rutgers University Camden in the US, said Turkish drones such as the Bayraktar TB2 drones were “increasingly important to modern conflict because they have spread so widely”.

For years, major exporters like the United States and Israel limited the number of countries they would sell to, as well as the models they were willing to sell, he told AFP.

“It created an opening in the export market that other countries, notably Turkey and China, wanted to fill,” added the author of the book “The Drone Age: How Drone Technology Will Change War and Peace “.

The Turkish official said that Turkey has been investing in the defense industry since the 2000s, but the real leap forward came in 2014 after serious investments in advanced technologies and a move towards the use of locally produced products.

While Turkish defense technology exports amounted to $248 million at the start of 2000, they exceeded $3 billion in 2021 and are expected to reach $4 billion in 2022, he said.

Today, Turkey exports its relatively cheap and efficient drones to more than 25 countries.

Boyle said these drones could be used “for direct strikes, particularly against insurgent and terrorist forces, but also for battlefield reconnaissance to increase the accuracy and lethality of strikes.”

“So they are an enabler of ground forces, which makes them particularly useful for countries like Ukraine that are fighting a militarily superior enemy,” he said.

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