US media is reporting that the manufacturer of the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones, devastating to the Russian military in Ukraine, has ties to Turkish President Erdoğan and other Islamists. According to a New Yorker report:
May 9, 2022 The Bayraktar TB2 is a flat, gray unmanned aerial vehicle (U.A.V.), with angled wings and a rear propeller. It carries laser-guided bombs and is small enough to be carried in a flatbed truck, and costs a fraction of similar American and Israeli drones. Its designer, Selçuk Bayraktar, the son of a Turkish auto-parts entrepreneur, is one of the world’s leading weapons manufacturers. In the defense of Ukraine, Bayraktar has become a legend, the namesake of a baby lemur at the Kyiv zoo, and the subject of a catchy folk song, which claims that his drone “makes ghosts out of Russian bandits.”[…]
In May, 2016, Bayraktar married Sümeyye Erdoğan, the youngest daughter of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s President. Erdoğan is the leader of a political Islamist movement that, the analyst Svante Cornell has written, wishes “to build a powerful, industrialized Turkey that serves as the natural leader of the Muslim world.” Turkey’s arms industry has grown tenfold in the past twenty years, and most of the country’s military equipment is now manufactured locally. “The Bayraktars, and particularly the TB2s, have turned into the flagship of the Turkish defense industry,” Alper Coşkun, a former Turkish diplomat, told me.
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According to the New Yorker, Bayraktar’s father, was an adviser to President Erdoğan, while Erdoğan was a local politician in Istanbul. Özdemir was also “friendly” with Necmettin Erbakan, the former Islamist Prime Minister and founder of the Islamist Millî Görüş movement. Özdemir Bayraktar was said to have briefed Erbakan on Selçuk Bayraktar’s work on drones while Selçuk was studying, and by the mid-2000s ‚Selçuk Bayraktar was embedded with the Turkish military.
The New Yorker also illustrates how the drones are a potential Turkish influence tool, serving as a relatively inexpensive kingmaker in conflicts. The article says that TB2 drones cost about 1/6 of the price of the US’s Reaper drones while also being extremely effective: citing a former State Department specialist on Turkey:
This enabled a fairly significant operational revolution in how wars are being fought right now. This probably happens once every thirty or forty years.
The article also details how the TB2 drones made a major difference in the 2020 Azerbaijan-Armenian war. The article notes that the drones are not one-time purchases; effectively binding purchasers into service agreements with Turkey:
Once a fleet is purchased, operators travel to a facility in western Turkey for several months of training. “You don’t just buy it,” Mark Cancian, a military-procurement specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told me. “You have married the supplier, because you need a constant stream of spare parts and repair expertise.” Turkey has become adept at leveraging this relationship. It struck a defense deal with Nigeria, which included training the country’s pilots on TB2s, in exchange for access to minerals and liquefied natural gas.
Finally, the article demonstrates how TB2 drone sales have been used to advance Turkish foreign policy objectives. For example, in Ethiopia, they were only delivered after the government seized a number of schools run by Fethullah Gülen’s organization, which Turkey blames for the 2016 Turkish coup. According to Turkish media, the Ethiopian Gülen schools were taken over by the government-founded Maarif Foundation (Türkiye Maarif Vakfı), which ostensibly provides education, dormitories, and scholarships abroad, from pre-school to higher education and raises a “Turkey-friendly youth.”