Turkey’s Indigenous Drone Manufacturers
BAYKAR is one of two main Turkish drone manufacturing companies that supply the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) with Unmanned (Combat) Air Vehicles: UAV & UCAV.
(Note: for simplicity we will use the terms UAV/UCAV and “drone” interchangeably)
Its principal competitor is TUSAŞ (former TAI, Turkish Aerospace Industries), an industrial giant that designs and manufactures a wide variety of aerospace products and systems, including :
– military and civilian helicopters,
– training and light-combat jet and turboprop aircraft
– military satellites
– F-35 parts
– a new Turkish indigenous stealth fighter aircraft (in design)
TUSAŞ also builds the ANKA series of UAVs/UCAVs, competing directly with BAYKAR. Compared to their main competitor, BAYKAR SAVUNMA is a relatively small company, but crucially a company almost exclusively specializing in the design and manufacturing of military drones.
Our objective is to assess the main BAYKAR drone products, some of the most innovative and advanced in the world.
We will avoid getting into detailed technical specs and characteristics; these can be found in specialized publications. Instead we try to explain the rational behind the design and innovations in each product in a simple and straightforward manner in order to reach a wider audience.
BAYRAKTAR TB2: Tactical Drone, Strategic Impact
The first flight of a BAYRAKTAR prototype, a rather small surveillance drone, took place in 2009. TAI was concurrently designing the somewhat larger ANKA series. BAYKAR decided to position its drone at the low end below the size and cost of the rival platform, aiming at a unit price advantage.
BAYRAKTAR TB2 over Turkey’s SouthEast Border Mountain Range
After the 2009 flight BAYKAR was required to adapt its drone to offer an armed version. Payload was increased with a wingspan extension from 9 to 12 meters to increase lift. The new version achieved first flight in 2014 and entered serial production in 2016, first equipped with two and later four weapon hard-points under its wings. Maximum weapon payload is 57Kg, but high loads must be accommodated with relevant fuel reduction.
It is not easy to classify the TB2 in the existing pantheon of drones. Nominally it fits both the Mid-Altitude (MA) and Long Endurance (LE) criteria of a MALE drone. Some say that BAYKAR avoided calling it a MALE UAV, using the term Tactical UAV instead, so as not to place it in direct competition with its rival ANKA series.
We disagree with this assertion. In our opinion, although TB2 nominally possesses both MALE attributes it is not a real MALE UAV, because it misses the essence of the Long Endurance component: Long Range. TB2’s admirable 24h endurance is limited to a restricted geographical region, as its direct Line-of-Sight (LOS) guidance only allows it to loiter within a range of 150Km from a base station.
In our opinion TB2 is effectively a sub-MALE UAV, although we would readily admit BAYKAR’s Tactical UAV designation is much wiser in commercial terms !
The small payload drone perfectly fits the inexpensive-drone/inexpensive-payload paradigm, in the clever cost/payload chart formulated by Singapore’s DSTA research team in 2011 :
Vehicle vs. Payload cost for military drones
In order to understand the context of the development of BAYRAKTAR TB2 in the 2009-2016 period, some historical background is necessary.
When BAYKAR started designing the TB2 the foremost TSK requirement was the ability to hunt down and destroy the terrorists of PKK, a notorious communist/anarchist organization thinly disguised in nationalistic Kurdish overtones. This organization, together with its Iraq, Iran and Syria affiliates (YPG, YPJ, PJAK, YRK e.o.) maintained an on-and-off insurgency in Turkey during 40 odd years, killing ruthlessly and indiscriminately Turks and loyal Kurds alike.
The Turkish Army first turned to its Western allies to procure armed unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs). TSK tried for years to obtain American MALE drones (of the REAPER/PREDATOR class), only to be frustrated by a US congress that feigned non-proliferation as an excuse for its unwillingness to equip its NATO ally with effective counter-terrorism means.
However, the US did provide TSK with intelligence information from its own drones. This information while useful was ineffective because of the time lag between its availability and the time necessary to scramble one or more F-16 fighters to respond.
Turkey then bought a number of Israeli HERON UAVs. These initially encountered technical problems (later resolved) but came with high operational cost. Most importantly they were unarmed systems and as such they could not possibly resolve the time lag effect.
Disappointed by its allies, Turkey decided to try on its own, awarding TAI with a 2004 design contract for the ANKA series. The first ANKA flight took place in 2010. A long range, satellite-controlled MALE version designated ANKA-S was introduced in 2016.
Concurrently in the early 2010s Turkish company Roketsan designed and produced two lightweight inert laser-guided munitions specifically for drone deployment. These munitions, designated MAM-L (21.5 Kg) and MAM-C (7 Kg), were derived from the highly successful anti-tank (ATGM) UMTAS and the light 2.75” general purpose CİRİT respectively.
UMAS and CİRİT are extremely accurate laser-guided missiles. Roketsan modified them, essentially removing their motors. The derived MAM-L and MAM-C munitions enter a controlled glide upon their release and maintain a typical range of 4-8 km depending on release altitude.
It was in this historic context and with these TSK requirements that BAYKAR set up to design and develop its first tactical drone. In addition as we have discussed, BAYKAR had its own goals: keeping the TB2 in the low weight / low payload / low cost class, so as to successfully position it below the ANKA series with a significant price advantage.
What design choices were made to advance these goals ?
A first seemingly counterintuitive choice was to manufacture the drone using expensive ultra-light carbon fiber material. A sleek and futuristic aerodynamic body was designed, capable of producing extra lift. At first glance, expensive hi-tech composites may seem incompatible with the desired low cost profile. However the resulting lightweight construction and lift allowed the drone to use the small, reliable and inexpensive Rotax 912 engine.
The high quality Swiss-made motor provides an output of 100hp and it is dual use: it has sizable commercial and secondary markets which guarantee availability at a reasonable price. This motor, combined with the ultra low weight aerodynamic body achieved an admirable 24h long endurance at a descent cruising altitude of just under 20,000 feet.
Another fateful choice was opting for the USA/Canadian L3Harris WESCAM-15D electro-optical (EO) turret. This is a very expensive high-end option, with advanced Infrared, Thermal & Laser Designation capabilities as well as impeccable stabilization. It is an integrated package with all control electronics housed inside the turret. At just under 50Kg the high-end turret is perfectly suited to the low weight profile of the TB2. At the same time it provides a decisive edge: the highly stabilized laser designator allows consistent near 100% direct-hit accuracy for both the MAM-L/C munitions, as well as heavier laser-guided bombs released from F-16’s on targets the TB2 drone designates.
We may appreciate the wisdom of BAYKAR’s choice if we consider that the significantly more expensive Wing-Loong II MALE Chinese drones acquired by the UAE had to be modified with Israeli-made optics in order to achieve an acceptable degree of accuracy.
Regarding domestic content, all components other than engine and turret are made in Turkey; most are manufactured by BAYKAR.
The Swiss Rotax engine is a very good choice: not all components need be produced in Turkey, as long as component availability cannot be threatened ― Turkey has a bitter experience of military embargoes. However, the flourishing commercial market for this dual use motor ensures uninterrupted supply.
In contrast, the WESCAM EO turret is an expensive military and law enforcement component, mainly used by police and customs enforcement (helicopters and planes). It is very difficult to determine its precise cost, as military and law enforcement contracts are not always open, may involve government agencies and may include intergovernmental incentives. Nevertheless we emphasize that the high cost of this component is not an issue, it is rather a conscious design choice.
However we must examine its supply, as it is an imported military product. Could availability for this component realistically be threatened ?
We consider the issue mostly of theoretical value, as the window of opportunity for an embargo is limited. We explain:
BAYKAR did not use a domestically produced EO turret because a proper one was not available during TB2 design and development. The Aselsan ASELFLIR 300-T non-integrated turret used by T129 and ANKA was a readily available high-quality product, but with a total weight of almost 120Kg it was outside the technical envelope of the TB2.
However two next-generation EO turrets Aselsan DASS and Aselsan CATS are lightweight (under 59Kg each) falling within the TB2 technical envelope. Under development for high-end platforms (CATS will be used in AKSUNGUR), one of these technologically advanced turrets may make an excellent choice for an upgraded TB2, should an embargo force this issue.
Thus the proximate arrival of new advanced domestic EO turrets removes WESCAM MX-15D availability as an issue of practical concern. The high end Aselsan turrets may be expensive, but this is inline with the design philosophy of the TB2: a low cost platform with expensive high-end targeting capabilities.
Estimated Manufacturing Cost
Our estimated total manufacturing and overhead cost places TB2 within the $1m-$1.5m range (see cost table below) with the WESCAM EO turret responsible for more than half of this cost.
This should imply a final unit sale price between $2m-$3m to adequately recover the platform’s design cost. This is outstandingly competitive when compared to MALE UAVs.
American REAPER/PREDATOR drones have unit prices around $16m. The Israeli HERON costs around $10m and the TUSAŞ ANKA-S unit price should be equally in the $10m-$12m range.
BAYRAKTAR TB2 Estimated Bill Of Materials (B.O.M.) and Manufacturing Cost
Our estimated $2m-$3m TB2 unit price clearly diverts from generally accepted estimates that congregate around the $5m price point.
We consider these estimates incorrect. They are mostly derived from the Ukrainian contract that has a published value of $69m for 12 TB2 units. In our opinion these estimates fail to fully account for the price of control stations and ammunition included in this contract, as well as training overhead and other contractual costs. Unit replacement price is $2m-$3m for the end customer.
However price positioning is also a matter of demand, and demand is directly related to results and acquired reputation.
How well did BAYRAKTAR TB2 perform its mission ?
From its first years of operational service around 2017 TB2 met with resounding success. The small, inexpensive, limited-range tactical drone amazingly managed to achieve a strategic effect ! Constant border surveillance and repeated direct hits devastated PKK ranks and leadership alike, and denied them the ability to infiltrate the border mountain ranges and/or freely operate inside Turkey.
There is an inherent advantage all terror organizations (PKK, ISIS, Al-Qaeda) unfortunately hold over lawful states: it is part of what we know as “asymmetry” in asymmetric warfare. While an organized state must act within the framework of its laws, terrorists are not bound by written laws nor by unwritten customs or morality. This gives them a gruesome advantage.
By denying operational freedom of action and systematically targeting and annihilating the PKK leadership, BAYKAR’s drones went a long way in responding to the asymmetric warfare challenge. We can thus realistically envisage today an end to PKK insurgency as well as an end to the terrorist organization itself, by capitulation or negotiation, a result that as recently as 2017 seemed out of reach.
Rarely in history has a tactical weapon achieved such a clear strategic impact !
Besides its important counter terrorism role, TB2 has been fully deployed in two major operational theaters to date, first in Syria’s Afrin during operation Olive Branch and in Idlib during operation Spring Shield. The second theater is Western Libya. How did it perform in these more conventional theaters ?
First, TB2 established a very high degree of operational availability and survivability. In Turkey and Syria we can confirm the loss of three or four TB2s during more than two years of operational deployment, almost all accidental losses. In the Libyan theater ― risible propaganda claims of the illegitimate Libyan National Army (LNA) notwithstanding ― we can only confirm the loss of three units (Serial Numbers T92, T94 and T95). It is unclear if some of those were lost accidentally.
The success of TB2 became evident in the Idlib theater with numerous armored and unarmored vehicle direct hits. From heavy amor MBTs, to self-propelled artillery, MLRS and technicals, no vehicle seemed capable to escape the fury of the TB2.
The combination of the highly accurate MAM-L and MAM-C laser guided munitions, with the extreme stability, quality and effectiveness of the WESCAM targeting turret achieved near 100% direct-hit accuracy. In two furious weeks, Assad’s mechanized units evaporated, forcing him and his Russian sponsors to accept a negotiated truce, thus establishing via agreement the legal and uncontested presence of Turkish troops on the ground, and keeping a major part of Idlib free.
Nevertheless it was TB2’s success against Russian Anti Aircraft (AA) systems that brought the most remarkable notoriety for the platform.
In both Syria and Libya, TB2 has acquired a reputation as an “AA killer” with three Pantsir-S1 confirmed kills in Idlib (one resulting in partial damage) and a fourth hit that destroyed a BUK battery. In Libya we have so far more than 10 confirmed successes and counting, with some systems partially damaged. Certain Pantsir-S1 units were found to be in operation with activated radars while targeted and destroyed:
Iconic Image of a Pantsir-S1 AA System with Activated Radar, in the Targeting Sight of a TB2
What has led to this unexpected success ?
In Idlib the conventional wisdom has been that the long range Aselsan KORAL Electronic Warfare System, operating just behind the border, provided a shroud of invisibility for the TB2. KORAL has undoubtedly been a contributing factor. Nevertheless I have consistently maintained since the Idlib operation, that KORAL could not have been the only factor.
I arrived to this conclusion because the ANKA drones were apparently less protected, suffering two losses in Idlib ― both clearly due to AA fire ― despite the fact that only a very low number of these advanced drones were operationally available.
We proposed instead a different contributing factor. TB2’s carbon fiber body reflects slightly less radar energy than conventional materials. Certainly the drone is not designed to be stealthy and its carbon fiber composite is by no means a radar absorbing material. We only maintain that TB2 offers a somewhat reduced radar cross section, aided by both its size and material.
However, when you combine a relatively small radar cross section with a low cruising speed of 130 km/h, and a flight level of just under 20,000 feet, you may get an unusual small, hi & slow radar signature that the Pantsir-S1 search radar may not have been programmed to recognize. Radars typically ignore bird-like signatures, it is therefore possible that Pantsir-S1 rejects the TB2 imprint as “noise”.
TB2s have been allowed to operate with impunity in the Libyan theater were electronic countermeasures are clearly unavailable. This fact strongly corroborates our view.
In conclusion, extremely accurate targeting and limited “furtivity” resulted in TB2 achieving a tactical surprise over Russia and its allies twice in the space of a few months ― to devastating effect !
Units and Exports
BAYKAR produces the TB2 in batches of 6 drones, accompanied by either 2 or 3 control stations depending on the customer.
We estimate a batch price of around $30m, and a TB2 unit/replacement price in the area between $2m and $3m, establishing a clear price advantage over its mainly MALE competitors. We would not be surprised if BAYKAR were to raise export prices given the recent success and notoriety of the platform.
BAYRAKTAR TB2, Ukrainian Armed Forces
BAYKAR won two export contracts from Ukraine and Qatar. Some units have been transferred to Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA), probably under an intergovernmental contract. There are now 30-36 units operating outside Turkey:
– Ukraine : 12 units (2 batches)
– Qatar: 6 units (1 batch)
– Libya: 12-18 units (2-3 batches); given the nature of this transfer the exact number of units cannot be determined
Turkey has acquired more than 120 BAYRAKTAR TB2s to date, operating for the Armed Forces (TSK), the Police and the Gendarmerie.
Until recently BAYKAR was producing TB2s at a rate of about 8 batches per year (48 units). In April 2020 president Erdoğan of Turkey ordered BAYKAR to double TB2 production to just under 100 units per year: such an important strategic value has been placed on this unassuming product.
A lethal combination of pricing and tactical effectiveness means Turkey can afford to flood its skies with a large number of inexpensive, highly capable drones, achieving a natural multiplier effect.
COMING SOON – Part B: Baykar AKINCI and MiUS drones
- ROTAX 912 Rotax www.rotax.com
- WESCAM MX-15D L3Harris Technologies www.l3harris.com
- ASELFLIR-300T Aselsan www.aselsan.com.tr
- DASS (ASELFLIR-400) under development by Aselsan www.aselsan.com.tr
- Aselsan CATS under development by Aselsan www.aselsan.com.tr
- BAYKAR Product Catalog BAYKAR SAVUNMA January 2018
- Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Development Trends & Technology Forecast DSTA Defense Science & Technology agency, Singapore January 2011