The Turkish defense company whose armed drones were decisive in conflicts in Azerbaijan and Libya will soon test-fly two new unmanned aircraft that will extend Turkey's drone capabilities from land-based to naval operations, its CEO said on Wednesday.
Haluk Bayraktar, one of two engineer brothers running the defense firm Baykar, said the new aircraft would be tested in the next two years and would be able to take off from a Turkish navy ship currently under production.
Turkey's deployment of the company's Bayraktar TB2 drone has been a major factor in conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Azerbaijan, pushing Baykar into the spotlight and transforming it into a major manufacturer and exporter.
The firm has now signed export deals with 13 countries including a joint production deal with Ukraine, as its products help reshape the way modern wars are fought, Bayraktar said.
The scale of Turkey's drone program puts it in the world's top four producers alongside the United States, Israel and China, analysts say.
"Smart, unmanned aircraft systems are the two leading technologies that changed the landscape for power projection," he told Reuters on the sidelines of defense show in Istanbul.
"As everyone is talking about how drone technology is changing battle doctrines ... one of our next objectives is the TB3 drone, capable of taking off from and landing on TCG Anadolu," Bayraktar said, referring to a planned Turkish light aircraft carrier.
Although the ship will be able to carry combat helicopters on its landing deck, Turkey does not operate a plane that can take off from the vessel. The TB3, with a folding-wing design, could deploy from the short naval runways.
With some sections under production, it is expected to see the first test flight next year, Bayraktar said.
It will be followed by an unmanned combat aircraft, called MUIS, with first prototype flight expected in 2023, he said. Currently in the design phase, MUIS will be jet-powered, with a payload of up to 1.5 tons.
The autonomously maneuvering craft will be capable of operating in tandem with piloted aircraft, and may carry air-to-air missiles, the company said.
"THEY WANT DRONES"
Baykar, founded in the 1980s by Bayraktar's father, began to focus on unmanned aircraft production in 2005 as Turkey sought to strengthen its local defense industry.
Now it is spearheading Turkey's global defense export push. President Tayyip Erdogan, whose daughter is married to Baykar's chief technology officer Selcuk Bayraktar, says international demand for TB2 and the newer Akinci drone is huge.
"Everywhere, even in my Africa trip, they want drones, armed drones and Akinci," he told Baykar workers last month after returning from a trip to Angola, Togo and Nigeria. "The whole world ... want to see and to know what you are doing."
The first Akinci drone, which has a longer flight time and can carry a larger payload than the TB2, was delivered to the Turkish military in August.
Despite the growing demand, the use of Turkish-made drones in eastern Ukraine against Russian-backed militia has been criticized by the Kremlin. Planned sales to Ethiopia, mired in civil war and at odds with Egypt, has caused friction with Cairo.
Bayraktar said Turkey had made a "huge leap" in its effort to create its own defense industry over the last 20 years, expanding from 17 companies to nearly 17,000.
"The drone technology is just one success story born from the national and indigenous development drive," he said. "We started to reap the benefits of work that began two decades ago only recently."