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Turkey has a new drone to use with its new drone aircraft carrier, and it's looking to sell it to the rest of the world

Paul Iddon   

Turkey has a new drone to use with its new drone aircraft carrier, and it's looking to sell it to the rest of the world
  • Turkish firm Baykar's TB2 drone is in demand around the world after its performance in recent wars.
  • Turkey's government is looking to cash in on the company's new offerings, especially the TB3 drone.

Turkish firm Baykar's TB2 drone is in high demand around the world after its performance in recent wars, and Ankara is looking to cash in on the company's new offerings.

The new Bayraktar TB3 naval drone took its first flight in October. The drone is designed for use with the Turkish navy's new flagship, the TCG Anadolu aircraft carrier.

While similar in appearance to the TB2, the TB3 has folding wings, which reduces the space it occupies on ship decks. The TB3 also appears to have a higher maximum takeoff weight than the TB2, which would allow it carry a heavier payload or more fuel, giving it a longer range.

Despite such improved features, the TB3's naval-focused design may give it less appeal than the TB2, which has been sold to 30 countries, but the new drone's export prospects are certainly not dim.

Potential candidates

Ali Bakir, a Turkey expert and non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Middle East program, said the TB3 will likely have some export success thanks in part to the undisputed success of its predecessor.

"Nations that already acquired TB2 are natural candidates to receive the newer, more advanced version," Bakir told Business Insider, referring to a group that includes Qatar, Libya, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine.

Turkey has made rapid advances in drone technology but its offerings are still more affordable than those of other countries, and Bakir said countries wishing to diversify their defense acquisitions "based on a balanced equation of relatively cheap equipment and high-efficiency performance" may opt for the TB3.

Such countries could include Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, both of which signed record deals for Baykar drones this year.

Countries with extensive coastlines and waters to defend and which operate ships similar to the Anadolu — such as light aircraft carriers, landing helicopter docks, or amphibious assault ships may well want the TB3 for their navies.

"These countries include nations from East Asia, NATO members, and EU members, especially those located near China and Russia, such as Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Romania, etc.," Bakir said.

Ankara also has "an ambitious goal" to expand its defense exports to Latin America, "but this is something that remains to be seen," Bakir added.

An emergent drone carrier market?

Turkey has already expressed interest in marketing the TB3 to countries operating landing helicopter docks and similar warships.

"The upcoming TB3 will be a great fit for Japan's Izumo-class platforms," Haluk Bayraktar, CEO of Baykar Defense, said in March 2022. (Japan is converting its two Izumo-class helicopter carriers into dedicated aircraft carriers to operate its F-35B short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing jets.)

Turkey has suggested it may even build drone carriers for export.

The president of Turkey's Defense Industry Agency said in July that the country was in the final stages of talks over a potential contract to build a landing helicopter dock similar to the Anadolu for export to one of the Arab Gulf states. The new vessel would also carry drones.

That country may be the UAE. The chairman of the board of directors of UAE defense conglomerate Edge told Defense News in November that the company was in discussions with Baykar "to integrate our missiles on some of their drones and to possibly acquire the TB3 model eventually."

Turkey has repeatedly boasted that the Anadolu is the first true drone carrier in the world. The ship was designed with the F-35B in mind, but it had to be modified after the US kicked Turkey out of the F-35 program over Ankara's purchase of Russia's S-400 air-defense system in 2019.

Ankara undoubtedly hoped the TB3 would be the first of its kind worldwide, but Suleyman Ozeren, a professorial lecturer at the American University and senior fellow at the Orion Policy Institute, said the Mojave drone, built by General Atomics, has edged it out.

"The US-made Mojave, the TB3's rival model, landed and took off for the first time on the British aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales," Ozeren told Business Insider, referring to testing that occurred off the US East Coast this fall.

"In that respect, the TB3 lost its title of being the first carrier-borne UAV to take off and land from short-distance runways to Mojave," Ozeren said.

That may not "diminish" the TB3's overall value but could have "significant implications" for sales to countries that would prefer to buy from the US, including allies like Japan and South Korea, Ozeren said, adding that "the TB3 could still be a good option for Egypt's Mistral-class amphibious assault ship."

Turkish exports of amphibious assault ships may not happen any time soon, Ozeren added, noting that Ankara has partnered with the Spanish shipbuilder Navantia to build the Anadolu.

"If Turkey intends to sell an amphibious assault ship similar to the Anadolu to the UAE, that deal may require the continuation of the Spanish partnership," Ozeren said. "The feasibility of such a deal may be limited at present."

Paul Iddon is a freelance journalist and columnist who writes about Middle East developments, military affairs, politics, and history. His articles have appeared in a variety of publications focused on the region.

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