It is almost two decades since the military drone (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle --UAV) was used by any country (The USA) for aerial attack in a combat mission. It has led to a rush among the countries to acquire military drones through indigenous development programs or import from other countries.
Turkey tried to import the military drones from the USA and Israel but the product which it got was not up to the mark. After experiencing the difficulties in importing effective military drones, Turkey, through its robust private sector defence industry, started serious work to develop indigenous capability around 2010. This focus paid off and in less than a decade Turkey became a major player in the production and export of military drones.
Bayraktar TB2 is Turkey’s first indigenously produced armed drone. It is developed by a private company “Baykar Makina.” This drone can fly at an altitude of 24,000 feet for up to 24 hours and relies on ground control stations for communication. With a range of up to 150 kilometres, it can carry a payload of 120 pounds and has become the backbone of its unmanned air force
The other heavier and satellite-linked military drone is ANKA-S which made its operational debut in 2019 during the battle over Idlib in Syria. It is manufactured by Turkish Aerospace Industries which is the giant of defence production in Turkey. It can fly for more than 24 hours carrying a 400-pound payload, and has the ability to detect, identify and track ground targets.
As of March 2020, Turkey has around 130 armed drones belonging to different versions of Bayraktar TB2, ANKA, and Karayel in service. These drones were critical in Turkey’s strikes against the Kurdish rebels and regime forces in Syria. Turkish drones were also credited to swing the momentum in the favour of UN recognised Libyan government against the onslaught by the renegade strongman; General Haftar led Libyan National Army in Libya
A report published by C4ISRNET, a publication that covers technology for defence and intelligence communities, said “Turkey’s decision to send a mass-coordinated UAV attack points to its availability of options It also stated that "Turkey joins the United States, United Kingdom, France, Israel, China and Iran as drone-armed nations."
As a logical extension to expanding drone programs Turkey has started looking for the opportunities in the competitive global market for military drones. It has so far exported the drones to Qatar, Ukraine, and Azerbaijan and is reportedly in talks with Pakistan, Indonesia, and Tunisia for the same.
The rapid advancement in the design, development, deployment, and export of killer drones has put spotlight on Turkey as a new player in a fiercely contested arena which is so far dominated by established heavyweight players.