Why could the war in Ukraine cripple Turkey’s ‘game-changing’ Bayraktar drones and its ambitious national drone project?

Ukrainian forces claimed that Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones had inflicted heavy damage on invading Russian troops, destroying their artillery and tanks over the past few days.

Perhaps buoyed by this success, drone maker Baykar claimed on March 12 that the first prototype of its new combat drone, officially called MIUS (National Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle System), had entered the production line.

“A bigger, more agile fish entered the production line three and a half years later,” tweeted Baykar Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Selçuk Bayraktar.

He was referring to when Baykar started producing his iconic “Akinci” combat drone, also known as the “flying fish”. UCAV had completed a 16-minute maiden flight on December 6, 2019.

The most recent project, MIUS, has been given the name “Kizilelma” (red apple), according to Bayraktar, referring to a Turkish metaphor that represents aspirations, ideals or desires that are distant but become more attractive as that they are far away. The first prototype is expected to take flight by 2023, Daily Sabah reported. Turkey will celebrate its centenary in 2023.

But there is a twist in the story. Baykar had signed a contract for the acquisition of engines for the MIUS in November last year with Ivchenko-Progress, one of the largest Ukrainian companies. According to the terms of the agreement, Ivchenko-Progress was to supply the AI-322F Turbofan engine for the drone.

It is unclear how this project will progress given the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Besides the MIUS project, Baykar is also actively developing the Bayraktar TB3 UCAV, an upgraded variant of the Bayraktar TB2.

TB2s have proven themselves not only in Ukraine, but also in war zones like Ethiopia, where these drones helped the government defeat insurgents in Tigray, and in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, where Azerbaijani troops used TB2 drones against Armenia.

The success of these low-cost, high-lethality drones in complex combat zones has brought Turkey’s drone industry into the limelight.

The industry is also expected to participate in drone bidding at the 17th Asia Defense Services Exhibition and Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in late March, as previously reported by the EurAsian Times.

Bayraktar Kizilelma (via Twitter)

The MIUS project

During the 2019 Innovation Week, the MIUS project (Akinci or Kizilelma) was unveiled as well as the Bayraktar TB2 drone. The Akinci UAV (MIUS) or “the flying fish” was touted as a crucial step towards Baykar Makina’s goal of improving UAV technology.

On July 20, Selcuk Bayraktar, son-in-law of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and chief technology officer (CTO) of Turkish defense company Baykar, presented a video detailing the future unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV).

Turkey-MIUS
A MIUS drone concept. (Image: Baykar)

In the video, Bayraktar can be heard saying, “Unmanned aircraft will change the concept of aerial warfare and replace fifth-generation aircraft,” a caustic statement ostensibly directed at the United States, which continues to be proud of their fifth generation F. -35 fighter planes.

Following the announcement, the company further revealed concept images of the MIUS drone, showcasing the carrier variant of the fighter with short takeoff capabilities.

Picture
A concept of the MIUS drone capable of carrying. (Image: Baykar)

Bayraktar previously said that since the domestic development of fighter jets such as the F-35 – from which Turkey was kicked out following its purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system – can take a long time, the platform -Turkish form could fall behind generation, which is why the development of unmanned combat aircraft is so important for the country’s defense industry.

Rather than building an F-35-like aircraft in 15 to 20 years, Bayraktar said, they were focusing on areas where the world is already moving — lower-cost unmanned fighters equipped with AI.

In addition, Ankara is also pursuing its own fifth-generation TF-X fighter jet program. The aircraft, produced by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), is expected to take flight within the next two years.

TAI Aksungur - Wikipedia
TAI Aksungur – Wikipedia

Previously, the Aksungur (gyrfalcon), TAI’s next-generation armed drone, was presented to the Turkish military last year. It was developed in about 18 months, according to the company, using state and domestic resources.

The Kizilelma drone

The AI-powered Bayraktar Kizilelma (MIUS) will be capable of aggressive maneuvering and air-to-air warfare similar to manned combat aircraft. In the future, it should become one of the most powerful vehicles on the battlefield.

The Kizilelma will be able to land and take off on ships with limited runways, such as the Turkish-built TCG Anadolu. The Amphibious Assault Ship or Helicopter Landing Dock (LHD) would be the first of its kind in the world, allowing combat drones to land on its dock. It will be delivered this year and will be used in general-purpose operations.

Accordingly, the combat drone is destined to play a key role in operations such as the preservation of the “blue homeland”, an objective to reclaim Turkey’s Ottoman glory and its maritime dominance in the Mediterranean where it is in direct conflict. with another NATO member. , Greece.

According to the manufacturer, the autonomously navigating MIUS will be able to operate in tandem with manned aircraft and will be able to carry air-to-air missiles. Strategic offensives, close air support (CAS), missile offensives, suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD) and destruction of enemy air defenses should all be carried out by this drone.

The unmanned aircraft will have a high operating altitude and a takeoff weight of 5,500 kilograms (12,125 pounds). It will be able to carry 1.5 tons of useful payload. It should be able to fly for five hours and reach speeds of up to 800 kilometers per hour (500 mph or Mach 0.64).

With the installation of the AESA radar, Bayraktar Kizilelma, which is designed to stay in the air for 5 hours with a mission radius of 500 nanometers, will have high situational awareness.

The Bayraktar Kizilelma, according to company information, will be a force to be reckoned with, due to its aggressive mobility and radar stealth potential.

Ukrainian engine for MIUS

In November last year, Baykar signed a contract with the Ukrainian company Ivchenko-Progress for the supply of engines for the MIUS. According to the terms of the agreement, Ivchenko-Progress was to supply the AI-322F Turbofan engine for the drone.

“With the new contract, we will install the AI-322F engine, jointly produced by Ivchenko Progress and Motor Sich, in our unmanned fighter aircraft. I hope this agreement will strengthen the strategic cooperation between the two countries,” said Haluk Bayraktar, CEO of Baykar, after signing the contract at the SAHA EXPO Defense and Aviation Hybrid Fair in Istanbul.

Bayraktar Kizilelma
Concept image by Bayraktar Kizilelma (via Twitter)

Baykar had further said that it had signed an agreement with another Ukrainian company, Motor Sich, for the acquisition of the technical specification of the MS500 turboprop engine.

According to Daily Sabah, the initial MIUS prototype would be powered by a turbojet engine and travel at Mach 0.8, while subsequent variants would travel at supersonic speeds. A SATCOM antenna will allow autonomous control by satellite.

For surface warfare, future unmanned aircraft will be equipped with SOM-J cruise missiles with a range of over 250 kilometers and MAM family guided bombs manufactured by Roketsan.

That said, Baykar has yet to provide details on how the two Ukrainian companies will supply the engines for his new drone, billed as the most advanced and deadliest UCAV he has ever made.

Sharon P. Juarez