Turkish drones have also appeared in several Turkish military attacks in Syria in recent years. They were deployed alongside Turkish-backed government forces in Libya. Late last year, the world witnessed Turkish drones operating in the Azerbaijani-owned Nagorno-Karabakh region against the Armenian army.
“Our drones are the best in class in the world at the moment,” says Haluk Bayraktar, beaming with pride. “They achieve tens of thousands of flying hours per month and have proven themselves on the battlefield within and beyond our borders.”
The drone program fits with Turkey’s ambition to become militarily self-sufficient. President Erdoğan has invested heavily in his arms industry over the past ten years. With the aim of being as independent as possible from foreign countries, so that it can remain in a state of arms embargo or sanctions.
Turkish drones critical in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict
The war in Nagorno-Karabakh is also seen as a “breakthrough” for Turkey’s drone industry. Azerbaijan could not have won the war so easily if it had not had Turkish (and Israeli) drones. Turkey has been criticized by Western NATO allies. Turkey has been involved in a long-running conflict in the Caucasus, and has supported a controversial regime in Azerbaijan. The European Union voted to impose sanctions on Turkey. So Canada stopped selling the parts Turkey uses to make drones.
But the Nagorno-Karabakh war had a different effect. Several countries saw for the first time what Turkish drones had in their homes and lined up to buy them. Turkey sold more drones last year than ever before. To countries such as Turkmenistan, Qatar and Morocco, but also to Ukraine. Poland is the first NATO country to order Turkish drones. It was recently announced that Latvia has also shown an interest.
“This conflict was a prime example of the ability of Turkish technology to outsmart Russian weapons systems on the Armenian side,” said Sen Ozkarasahin, a defense expert at the EDAM think tank. So this is also important to NATO.”
Drones as a means of increasing impact
Armed so-called the killer The nature of war is changing around the world. They are cheaper and more maneuverable than combat aircraft. Moreover, there are less risks for the pilot, because he is far away. The more countries that have drones, the more countries that want them too.
“Turkey is filling a gap in the market,” says Ozkarasahin. “They offer decent drones, but also cheaper than for example the US. The US has also always been reluctant to sell its drone technology for fear of proliferation. And Turkey is ready to do that.”
Turkey is putting geopolitical relations on edge with drones. “It is a political way for Turkey to increase its influence in the region,” Ozkarasahin said. “It is also a message to the world: to show that Turkey is a strong military state that can compete with the major powers.”
There is no ethical debate about the desirability of military drones in Turkey. Pride reigns supreme. “People are proud that we are using these kinds of technologies to protect our sovereignty,” said Haluk Bayraktar. “Ten years ago, we tried to buy drones from other countries. Now look, we’re self-sufficient, we even export.”