Turkish drone maker denies using UK technology

Turkish drone maker Baykar's CTO Selçuk Bayraktar has denied receiving crucial assistance from the UK when developing its armed drones, saying "We are not purchasing them from you and we never have. They don't work under all circumstances and they're very expensive."

Duvar English

Turkish drone maker Baykar has denied receiving vital assistance from a factory in Brighton when developing its armed drones Bayraktar TB2, in response to a report by the Guardian.

"We are not purchasing them from you and we never have. They don't work under all circumstances and they're very expensive," Baykar's CTO Selçuk Bayraktar has said.

The Guardian on Nov. 27 said that the armed Bayraktar TB2 could not have been developed without the Hornet missile rack, which was devised and supplied by EDO MBM Technology, located on the outskirts of Brighton, somewhere around 2015.

In response, Bayraktar said that the company developed a more sophisticated and unique version of the part with reasonable costs.

"This part is correct, Turkey is among the top three in armed drone technology," Bayraktar said, in response to the reporter who penned the article on the Guardian.

In its report, the Guardian said that Turkey was able to bypass a U.S. export ban on killer drones with the help of a missile component first developed in the UK.

The vital assistance from a factory in Brighton has helped Turkey on its way to become the second biggest user of armed drones in the world – one of a number of countries emulating methods first used by the U.S. in its “war on terror," it said.

Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones were heavily used in Ankara’s three operations to date against Kurdish-led forces in Syria. They have also been used to kill militants of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) across the border in Iraq this month.

An article in Jane’s Defence Review from May 2016 claims the Hornet was supplied to the Bayraktar TB2’s manufacturer Baykar at the crucial initial development stage. The Turkish company went on to develop its own missile racks.

Four years on, Turkey’s security forces run a fleet of 86 armed TB2s and the country is a fast emerging player in drone usage worldwide, a field that was dominated by the U.S. and, to a lesser extent, the UK and Israel until three or four years ago.

Today the field is awash with new manufacturers, including China as well as Turkey, and new buyers, including the United Arab Emirates.

The Turkish government’s goal had long been to deploy drones against the PKK.

A U.S. diplomatic cable from 2009, part of the WikiLeaks disclosures, written by the country’s then ambassador to Turkey, James Jeffrey, reports: “Turkey seeks to acquire, on an urgent basis, its own UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle, ie a drone] capability to be able to continue anti-PKK ops without US assistance.”

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was Turkey’s prime minister at the time, led several attempts to buy Predator drones from the U.S., but these were rebuffed by Congress, which had to approve the sales, forcing Ankara into an alternative approach.

Turkey then began its own development programmes, in large part masterminded by Selçuk Bayraktar, an ambitious former MIT PhD student, who is now married to Erdoğan’s youngest daughter, Sümeyye.

The key breakthrough came in December 2015, when Bayraktar successfully test-fired a rocket from its TB2 drone for the first time.

Firing the rocket required the help of the Hornet system, a “carriage system” reportedly supplied to Baykar and designed for what the parent company of EDO MBM calls “micro munitions” – small, light bombs, designed to avoid weighing down a drone that are able to make more targeted deadly strikes.

It is a sophisticated piece of equipment, described by some experts as “the intelligent hand” that ensures that munitions fired from a drone are released properly away from the drone and onto the target coordinates specified.

Patents were first filed by EDO in the UK in 2014 and in the EU and Turkey a year later, as shown in a dossier of evidence collected by Ceri Gibbons, a researcher with the Brighton Against the Arms Trade campaign group, which has been verified by the Guardian.

EDO MBM is owned by the US company L3 Harris, the world’s sixth-largest defense contractor. But because EDO MBM is located in the UK it is subject to British and not U.S. arms regulations, meaning it could legally export the critical bomb rack.

The Bayraktar TB2 is well-armed, capable of 24-hour flights at an altitude of 7,300 meters and can carry a payload of 150 kg.