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The Baykar Effect In Turkish Military Praxis And Statecraft

19.04.2024 15:58

Unmanned technologies writ large certainly do constitute a revolution in military affairs (RMA), and Baykar has made Türkiye a leader in the current RMA.

By Richard Outzen

The author is a Geopolitical Analyst

ISTANBUL (AA) — What are we to make of Baykar, the Turkish auto parts manufacturer that became a global geopolitical influencer? Founded in 1986, the company began to research unmanned aerial technologies at the turn of the millennium. It spent a decade developing prototypes and demonstrations, culminating in a contract for the first serious Turkish tactical unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in 2012. Even earlier, Baykar's UAV program became a platform for defense industrial cooperation — the first Qatari investments came in 2011, and Qatar would be an investor and customer for Baykar UAV's from an early date. Between 2012 and 2015, fielding and testing efforts produced a battle-ready tactical UAV — the TB-2 Bayraktar — that was ready to make an impact on military and geopolitical history.

Great effect in a short period

In the span of six years after fielding, from 2016 to 2022, Baykar's flagship product, the Bayraktar, would change the world. The use of precision sensors and munitions from other Turkish industries with the TB-2 would provide a means for low-cost precision strikes that impacted at least six major international and regional conflicts. The TB-2 enabled Turkish counter-PKK operations in Iraq, counter-PKK and counter-Daesh/ISIS operations in Syria, ended the siege of Tripoli in Libya, saved the Abiy regime in Ethiopia, aided Azerbaijan's recovery of sovereignty over territory occupied by Armenia, and helped Ukraine blunt the Russian invasion aiming at Kyiv in 2022. Few armaments or technologies have matured to such great effect in so short a period.

Did Baykar or the TB-2 drive a revolution in military affairs (RMA) or a revolution in Turkish military doctrine? With appropriate modesty, no. No single technology or company ever does. Yet unmanned technologies writ large certainly do constitute an RMA, and Baykar has made Türkiye a leader in the current RMA. Turkish military doctrine is not published openly, but by Turkish praxis we can ascertain that Baykar has enabled a significant generational change in the Turkish approach to combined arms warfare. Baykar's systems, complemented by systems from Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), and enabled by electronics, communications, and munitions solutions from Turkish firms Aselsan, Roketsan, Havelsan, and others, have led a revolution in the Turkish way of war. Persistent surveillance, precision strikes, rapid deployment, ease of use, affordability, integration with combined arms, and agility to deploy and train partners, were all theoretically part of Turkish combined arms warfare before 2012, but operationalized in practice only once a key and leading indigenous technology was at the center of the package. This was Baykar's contribution.

An innovative company

Turkish military doctrine over the past decade has evolved in the direction of strengthening deterrence through indigenous capabilities, pre-emptive defense against terror and hybrid threats, and forward defense working extra-territorially with local partners.[1] Baykar systems, especially the TB-2, have enabled each of these. In that sense, it has not only become a defense industrial leader, but a sine qua non for Turkish statecraft's primary tool: Using defense diplomacy to build networks of trust and cooperation. Baykar has shown a commitment to new technologies and systems to follow up on the success of the TB-2, including a strategic drone (Akinci), unmanned fighter (Kizilelma), maritime drone (TB-3), and a drone-launched mini-cruise missile (Kemankes).

What we should make of Baykar is that it is an innovative company, and innovative companies, including those in defense industrial space, generally seek growth. Having achieved an impressive display of short-term accomplishment by impacting Turkish defense and diplomatic capabilities over a decade, the question becomes whether Baykar will become the sort of firm that affects the long-term trajectory of its nation and region. There are precedents. Firms like Krupp (Germany) and Boeing (United States) have moved from humble and instrumental wartime beginnings to become global market leaders and geopolitical forces in their own right. Krupp became synonymous with German power over three centuries, while Boeing became the largest aerospace firm in the world while growing from its roots in producing manned fighter aircraft for the US Air Force in World War Two. Likely, Baykar is thinking big and long-term about ways to become the Turkish equivalent of such firms as a diversified technical and technological engine, rather than a product- and period-specific leader. Whether they succeed in that task will have major influence over Turkish economic and geopolitical prospects, as well as the destiny of the Middle East and adjacent regions, over the next few decades.

[1] https://www.insightturkey.com/articles/deciphering-turkeys-assertive-military-and-defense-strategy-objectives-pillars-and-implications

*Opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu -



 
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