Moscow’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine has highlighted the significant role unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can play in modern warfare. While many of the Iranian-designed lethal drones provided to Russian forces by Tehran have made headlines in recent months, another foreign-made UAV supplied to Ukraine has not garnered the same level of attention. Turkey’s Bayraktar TB2 UAVs have aided Ukraine’s defensive efforts by providing its forces with premiere intelligence collection and attack capabilities.
In fact, the TB2’s impressive performance both in Ukraine and in the 2021 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has led to the drone’s export success. The TB2’s manufacturer Baykar recently revealed plans to commence production on a new unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) in 2024. Based on the company’s formidable TB2 design, its new UCAV is expected to be just as popular among foreign clients.
A brief history of Baykar and its TB2 drone
The Turkish-based Baykar private defense company was founded in the mid 1980’s to represent a homegrown company specializing in the production of automotive parts. Although the company focused on the localization of the automotive industry in Turkey initially, by 2000’s it took steps to begin producing UAVS as the aviation sector progressed.
When the U.S. issued an export ban of armed unmanned aircraft to Turkey during this time, Baykar began conceptualizing its now widely popularized TB2 drone.
The new combat tactical aerial vehicle system was requested by Turkey’s Presidency of Defense Industries in the early 2010’s. By 2014, the TB2 was adopted by the Turkish military.
The TB2 has a solid track record in combat
Since its introduction to service, theTB2 gained popularity due to its performance in counterinsurgency operations against the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) and People’s Defense Units (YPG) fighters in northern Iraq and Syria.
In 2020, the TB2 became the first homegrown UAV built in Turkey to achieve the milestone of 200,000 operational flight hours. The Turkish drone features a triple redundant avionics system, including an onboard avionics suite that sports engine control, microcontroller, engine signal processing and I/O GPS receiver units. Powered by an internal combustion engine, the TB2 can reach speeds of over 220 kilometers. The UAV can carry up to 300 liters of fuel at a maximum range of roughly 300 kilometers.
According to its manufacturer, the drone is equipped with Baykar Real Time Imagery Transmission System (BGAM), which “provides real-time image transmission and processing solutions to the defense industry. BGAM allows high-resolution, non-delay live broadcasts to be monitored by multiple users at the same time.
BGAM is a web-based application that allows users to watch live broadcasts securely on the network or on tablets using the mobile application via internet.” The TB2’s advanced capabilities has led to its successful sale to militaries across the globe. So far, 13 countries utilize the TB2 drones, which have been notably used in Libya, Armenia and currently Ukraine.
Introducing the Kizilelma
Last month, Baykar announced the planned production of its newest UAV design- the Kizilelma.
The manufacturer’s spokesperson noted that the latest UAV expresses a “whole new future for combat aviation” as it is “designed to be a highly autonomous, under human purview of course, air-to-air combat vehicle.
The Kizilelma carried out its first tandem flight alongside the Akinci high-altitude UAV in early April. In a video widely circulated, the Kizilelma and the Akinci flew in close formation in the skies above the Akinci Flight Training and Test Center in Ankara.
Initially debuted in 2021, the new unmanned fighter can reportedly fly for up to five hours at a speed of Mach 0.9. AI-322F turbofan engines from Ukraine power the Kizilelma, which can launch several air-to-air missile types.
Turkey has been trying to position itself as a robust weapons exporter in recent years, making the production of its newest unmanned fighter a priority for president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Considering the export success and capabilities of the TB2 UAV, the Kizilelma has already made waves for interested buyers.
Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin.