Expanded Turkey-Ukraine defence cooperation focuses on drones

Turkey and Ukraine have significantly increased their defence cooperation of late, highlighted by a new deal to develop and produce advanced unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), Defense News reported on Monday. 

State-run Ukrainian firm Ukrspecexport, which produces guns and ammunition, and private Turkish drone specialist Baykar Makina signed a cooperation agreement in January meant to enhance both countries’ capabilities and increase production as needed, a Turkish procurement official told Burak Bekdil, a fellow at the Middle East Forum think tank. 

“At the heart of the agreement, however, is the planned development and production of advanced drone systems, both armed and unarmed,” Bekdil wrote for Defense News, describing a high-altitude drone for reconnaissance, as well as an attack drone. 

“According to a Ukrainian diplomat, the defence cooperation initiative aims to transfer ballistic missile capabilities to Turkey through Ukrspecexport’s parent company,” he said.

Turkey’s allies have taken note of the growing Turkish-Ukrainian defence cooperation, according to Bekdil. 

“We strongly support this initiative between two allied states,” a U.S. diplomat in Ankara told Defense News. A Russian diplomat in Turkey told Bekdil that Moscow was focusing on delivery of S-400 air defence systems to Turkey, which took delivery of its second battery this week. 

An Ankara-based defence trade expert told Bekdil that the drone market was an optimal starting point for collaborating on materiel production. “Various drone models may soon come into [the] production stage as the geostrategic and military requirements of Ukraine and Turkey match,” he said.

Earlier this year, Baykar Makina won a $69-million contract to sell six Bayraktar TB2 UAVs, advanced reconnaissance and intelligence drones, to Ukraine. 

“Turkish-Ukrainian defence cooperation will potentially go beyond drone systems,” the expert predicted. “Promising businesses could be armoured vehicle modifications and, most notably, the Altay.”

The Altay is Turkey’s first indigenous advanced battle tank, and joint Turkish-Qatari firm BMC last year began production of an initial batch of 250 units. 

“The government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has come under criticism for transferring a military-owned tank factory to BMC under a 20-year lease,” said Bekdil, pointing out that BMC’s Turkish partners include Ethem Sancak, a business confidant of Erdoğan and former board member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). 

In addition, Baykar Makina’s chief technical officer is Selçuk Bayraktar, one of Erdoğan’s two sons-in-law.