By Nailia Bagirova
BAKU (Reuters) – Ukraine’s destruction of Russian artillery systems and armored vehicles with Turkish Bayraktar TB2 aerial drones has made “the whole world” a customer, according to its designer.
Selcuk Bayraktar, who runs the Istanbul company Baykar with his brother Haluk, said drones had shown how technology was revolutionizing modern warfare.
“Bayraktar TB2 does what it was supposed to do – removing some of the most advanced anti-aircraft systems and advanced artillery systems and armored vehicles,” he told Reuters in English alongside the new Akinci drone at an exhibition in Baku. “The whole world is a customer.”
At least for a time, the TB2, which has a wingspan of 12 meters and can climb up to 25,000 feet before diving to destroy tanks and artillery with laser-guided armour-piercing bombs, helped undermine the overwhelming military superiority of Russia.
The drone’s fame is such that it became the subject of a patriotic swear-strewn hit song in Ukraine that mocked Russian troops, with the refrain “Bayraktar, Bayraktar”.
Beyond satire, the Bayraktar drone has caught the attention of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the Defense Ministry has mentioned it at least 45 times in public since the war began on February 24.
Baykar, founded in the 1980s by Bayraktar’s father, Ozdemir Bayraktar, began focusing on unmanned aircraft in 2005 as Turkey sought to bolster its local defense industry.
The TB2 has been such a factor in the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh as well as Ukraine that it is now spearheading Turkey’s global defense export push.
President Tayyip Erdogan said international demand was huge for the TB2 and the newer Akinci.
Bayraktar, who is married to Erdogan’s daughter, said Baykar can produce 200 TB2 drones per year.
COMBAT PLANES AND TAXIS
He said he was proud that the drones had been used in Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian enclave of Turkey’s ally Azerbaijan, where Baku forces retook swathes of territory in 2020, and in Ukraine.
“This is an illegal invasion, so TB2 is helping the honorable people of Ukraine to defend their country,” he said.
“The illegal occupation of Karabakh has been like a heartbreak since our youth. And as engineers developing the technology, it is an honor to have helped our brothers and sisters here to regain their land.”
Two weeks ago, Russia touted a new generation of laser weapons, including a mobile system that Moscow says could blind orbiting satellites and destroy drones.
But Bayraktar, who was born in Istanbul and studied at the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said these weapons were ineffective against TB2.
“Their ranges are limited, so if your sensory and ammo range is longer, they won’t be effective,” he said.
Baykar is working on a TB3, which has folding wings and can take off or land on short-runway carriers, and an unmanned combat aircraft called MUIS or Kizilelma.
“Inshallah, Kizilelma’s first flight will be next year, and TB3 by the end of this year or the beginning of next year,” Bayraktar said.
“If you look longer term, we’re working on taxi drones – for that we need to develop higher-level autonomy technology – which is basically AI – but it will revolutionize the way people will be transported to cities.
Russia’s invasion has killed thousands, displaced millions, and raised fears of a direct confrontation between Russia and the United States.
Putin said Washington was using Ukraine to threaten Russia with NATO expansion, and that Moscow should defend Russian speakers from persecution.
Ukraine and its Western allies reject them as baseless pretexts to invade a sovereign country.
(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Kevin Liffey)