Turkish Drones: A Growing Defense Industry and Arms Exports Sector

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Amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the most powerful weapons Ukraine used for the first time were Turkish drones. Although the United States has been the pioneer of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) for over a decade, Turkish drones are scoring global success and are becoming crucial in the second drone age.

In recent years, Turkish drone systems Bayraktar-TB2 and Anka-S have been critical in several battlefields, such as conflicts in Syria, Libya, and Nagorno-Karabakh. Their effective use changed the dynamics of modern wars. The use of drones, combined with the help of precision-guided munitions and electronic warfare, brought a change in land power and created an asymmetry that turned the tide in favor of the party using the drones.

Given that Turkish drones are cheap, can stay afloat for 24 hours, perform both attack missions and intelligence gathering, and are effective even against a significant army, more countries are showing interest in purchasing drones from Turkey. Besides Ukraine, Poland, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Ethiopia, Qatar, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, which already acquired

Turkish drones, additional countries are interested in joining the buyers’ list. These include Pakistan, Hungary, Serbia, Albania, Niger, and Angola.

There are currently two major UAV manufacturers in Turkey: Baykar, a private defense company led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology-educated Selcuk Bayraktar, and Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), the country’s leading producer of satellites. Drones made by Baykar and TAI have become the face of Turkey’s growing defense industry and arms exports sector. Armored personnel carriers and small weapons traditionally drove the Turkish arms exports sector, but now the industry has diversified to include missiles, drones, and other high-end weapons systems. Consequently, Turkey’s defense and aviation equipment exports have more than doubled since 2012, exceeding USD 3 billion in 2021. It has been predicted that the global market for military drones will grow from around USD 11 billion in 2021 to more than USD 26 billion in 2028. The expanded use of UAV systems for tasks ranging from reconnaissance and surveillance to border management, counterterrorism, and combat operations are expected to fuel this demand.

Turkey is keeping an eye on this market and is trying to stay ahead by manufacturing and selling cutting-edge UAVs with advanced capabilities. In addition, as Canada blocked the export of key drone parts, namely drone optics and targeting systems, to Turkey in 2020, Turkey has been working its way up to develop a self-sufficient defense industry. This development would further fortify its overall standing in the global arms exports market.