(CNN)–– “These shiny tanks are being set on fire ––Bayraktar––, that’s the new trend,” reads the lyrics of a popular Ukrainian song dedicated to the drone that has become one of the many symbols of resistance. to the Russian war.
The “Bayraktar” is so popular now that Ukrainians have even named their pets after this Turkish-made drone. Last month, the mayor of Kyiv announced that a newborn lemur at the city zoo would be named Bayraktar. In addition, the Foreign Ministry released a photo of another Bayraktar, a puppy at the Kyiv police dog training center.
Western and Ukrainian officials have praised Turkey’s Bayraktar TB2 drones for their role in countering Russian attacks. Last month, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace reportedly told lawmakers in his country that the drones “delivered ammunition” against “Russian artillery and its supply lines”. He added that it was “incredibly important” to slow down and block Russia’s advance.
The TB2, a Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) drone, has been in operation for years. It has been used by the Turkish military in northern Iraq and Syria since 2014. More recently, it is credited with helping to tip the scales in conflicts such as Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh. But videos recently released by the Ukrainian military showing its attacks on Russian military targets have gone viral. Which puts these drones back in the spotlight.
The success of the drone “is not limited to the ability to attack the Russian military”, explained Samuel Bendett, deputy senior researcher at the Center for Naval Analysis Russia Studies (CNAS). “It’s also a public relations victory,” he said.
According to Bendett, the drone performed as expected. But, he says, he is not “invulnerable”. Open source evidence suggests that the Russians may have shot down some of these devices.
Drones “are part of the Ukrainian social media campaign which the Ukrainian military and civilians are executing very well,” he said. Videos of Bayraktar’s drone strikes have gone viral on social media and it’s a “huge morale boost… [y] a great tactical victory,” he added.
The TB2 and other unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) being developed in Turkey have put the country on the drone map, alongside the United States, China and Israel, Bendett said.
Turkey, which has close economic and defense ties with Russia and Ukraine, has been cautious in promoting what is now arguably one of its most famous exports. Drone sales were already a major irritant for Russia long before its invasion of Ukraine. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned late last year that Turkish drones would have a “destabilizing” impact on the region.
A senior Turkish official told reporters on Friday that Russia had repeatedly complained to Ankara about drone sales to Ukraine. “They used to complain, now they complain, but we’ve already given them the answer…these are [de] a private company and this purchase was made before the war,” he said during a press conference with foreign media.
Ukraine was the first country to buy the TB2s, in 2019, and has ordered at least 36 drones so far. Last month, its Minister of Defense announced the arrival of a new shipment of these devices.
Selcuk Bayraktar, chief technology officer of Baykar Technologies, is more interested in talking about his drone technology than politics. He is also the son-in-law of the Turkish president, who positioned himself as a key mediator between Moscow and kyiv during the war.
Bayraktar listened to the song dedicated to his namesake drone. He is also familiar with the social media phenomenon that the device has become in Ukraine. However, he carefully measures his words when talking about this country.
“I think it’s one of the symbols of resistance, it gives them hope,” Bayraktar, an engineer and graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told CNN during a rare visit last week from the New York drone production facilities in Istanbul.
“People are resisting and defending their homeland against illegal occupation and (…) if you want independence, you have to be able to stand up and resist. And I think that’s what the brave people of Ukraine and its leaders have done,” he said. . “At the same time, you need technology. You need your own defense capability, but when people’s lives are at stake…I don’t want to compare that to any kind of technology,” said he added.
The “Kizilelma” (or red apple) is on display – Turkey’s first unmanned combat aircraft, which has just arrived on the production line and is named after the Turkish mythological expression which symbolizes the ideal – the goal that we want to achieve. Bayraktar said he expects to start flying next year.
Industry experts say factors like cost are what make drones so appealing.
“[El] Bayraktar TB2 offers an almost perfect price and a balance between combat effectiveness. [Y] has an affordable unit cost,” explained Dr. Can Kasapoglu, director of defense research at the Turkish Center for Economics and Foreign Policy (EDAM). “Competitors of TB-2 in the arms market are more expensive , have more bureaucratic and political hurdles to supply or whose sustainability of supply is uncertain”.
The company did not disclose pricing information.
The drone is also combat-proven, which is a crucial criterion in arms deals, he said.
“Ultimately, TB2s are likely to inflict more damage to the opponent than they take,” Kasapoglu added. “This is of crucial importance, especially for NATO’s eastern flank.”
Baykar Tech has signed contracts with at least 19 countries, most of which have been completed in the past 18 months. Among the buyers is Poland, the only member of the European Union and NATO to have ordered these devices.
Turkey’s aerospace and defense industry recorded more than $3 billion in exports last year, a record high, according to the country’s official news agency.
“It is important to strengthen defense and aviation exports to countries with which Turkey has strategic relations,” Haluk Bayraktar, CEO of Baykar and Selcuk’s younger brother, told Anadolu news agency in january. “Beyond providing economic gain, defense exports also provide a suitable basis for building strategic relationships with the countries to which they are exported,” he added.
For Selcuk Bayraktar, it’s not just a family business or a lifelong passion for engineering. He said it was about ensuring his nation’s independence and technological self-sufficiency.
“When I was 20…you could tell we were going to be the best in football… [o] in baklava, in kebab. But no one could say that we were going to develop a niche technology that was going to be world famous.”
Celine Alkhaldi and Eyad Kourdi contributed to this report.