Can TAI challenge Baykar in the Turkish drone export market?
Baykar Defense has had resounding, exponential success exporting its Bayraktar TB2 drone to dozens of countries in recent years. In recent months, Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI or TUSAŞ) has also won a smaller, albeit not insignificant, number of deals for its drones. Could it conceivably give the Baykar monopoly on Turkish drone exports some competition?
TAI produces the Anka family of drones and the newer Aksungur drone. Both are larger (the Aksungur is the largest drone TAI has produced to date) and more advanced than the TB2. They can also carry the same precision-guided munitions. The Aksungur also features unique anti-submarine warfare capabilities. In early October, the Turkish press reported that the Turkish Navy was using Aksungurs to drop sonobuoys for tracking Greek submarines in the Aegean and Mediterranean. Such proven capabilities could prove a unique selling point for countries that need to monitor long coastlines and maritime zones.
However, these drones are significantly more expensive, and only a fraction of as many have been produced to date. Nevertheless, TAI has recently won a series of deals for its Anka drones.
In October, Malaysia's defense minister announced that his country had selected TAI for its procurement of three medium altitude long endurance (MALE) drones. This follows Algeria's recently reported purchase of ten armed Anka-S drones, an order that came about a year after its neighbor and rival Morocco ordered 13 TB2s. Tunisia earlier ordered three armed Anka-S drones in 2020. Kazakhstan also bought three Anka drones in late 2021 and will jointly manufacture more of those drones on its soil.
While the Anka can most likely never come close to replicating the quantitative export success of the TB2, their advanced features could enable them to compete against the newer Bayraktar Akinci drone, a much more advanced model than the TB2, for foreign sales.
The facility TAI is establishing in Kazakhstan for locally manufacturing Ankas coincides with Baykar's ambitious plans for similar factories in Ukraine and the United Arab Emirates. It's presently uncertain which will ultimately get off the ground the quickest.
However, the present political conditions in Turkey essentially eliminate the prospect of serious rival competition between these drone manufacturers.
"There is no competition per se between TAI and Baykar defense companies. These two companies do not get into the competition as rival entities because there is an untold procedure that President Erdogan's inner circle coordinates," Suleyman Ozeren, a professorial lecturer at the American University and senior fellow at the Orion Policy Institute, told Gercek News. "In other words, Erdogan decides who gets to sell drones to which country."
"The post-July 15 abortive coup era has changed many things in Turkey, including the defense industry," he said. "After 2017, Erdogan has become the only person to have the final say about the decisions concerning the defense industry."
Ozeren also pointed out that Baykar has actively benefited from the research conducted and paid for by TAI and other state-run Turkish defense companies.
"While state-run defense companies, such as TAI, ASELSAN, or HAVELSAN, invested several millions of dollars in research, Baykar has been able to take advantage of the outcome of these research projects," he said. "This helps Baykar reduce costs and offer much cheaper drones to prospective buyers."
Then there is the well-known fact that the chairman of the board and chief technology officer of Baykar, Selcuk Bayraktar, is Erdogan's son-in-law.
"Because of his son-in-law, for Erdogan, Baykar is not just a company," Ozeren said. "He also sees the defense as a promising and thriving industry and is eager to make it part of his family business."
"Bayraktar TB2 drones became Erdogan's major political, military, and economic investment in countries in Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East," he added. "Erdogan's position as the head of the government makes it possible for Baykar to secure new deals with countries, which may sound like unfair competition."
Ozeren concluded by pointing out that, unlike the case in the United States or European Union states, "weapons sale to other countries does not involve oversight in Turkey, given Erdogan's one-man authority to make decisions. In certain cases, Turkey may offer a loan or donation to a country in Africa in exchange for purchasing drones, mostly Bayraktar TB2s."
*Paul Iddon is a freelance journalist who writes primarily about the political and military affairs and history of the Middle East.