Baykar’s record-breaking Saudi defence deal

Baykar Bayraktar Akıncı HALE UCAVs (credit: Baykar)
Baykar Bayraktar Akıncı HALE UCAVs (credit: Baykar)

Turkish drone manufacturer Baykar this week announced that it had signed the largest defence deal in Turkish history with Saudi Arabia, estimated by some analysts to be worth more than $1 billion.

The news of the deal, signed by Baykar CEO Haluk Bayraktar and deputy Saudi defense minister Khalid Al-Bayari, came during Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan’s official visit to the Kingdom.

The multifaceted deal includes the supply of Baykar’s Bayraktar Akıncı high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV), plus training services for the Saudi military, technology transfer and future collaboration towards ‘joint production’. The UCAV has been in service since 2021, is equipped with two turboprop engines and has a maximum payload of about 1,350 kilograms. Akıncı can be used team with fighter jets, and for both air-to-ground and air-to-air attack missions.

Following the use of its Bayraktar TB-2 by Ukrainian forces to devastating effect during last year’s Russian invasion, Baykar’s reputation is riding sky high. Previously battle-tested in Libya and Syria, its Bayraktar TB-2 drones are now in demand with several years production already underwritten by orders. However, the manufacturer now has more arrows in its quiver, with a pipeline of new products under development, including the medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UCAV TB3, a jet-powered Bayraktar Kızılelma UCAV (subsonic) and a supersonic version of the Kızılelma.

Turkey’s defence exports grew to reach $4.4 billion last year and the government set a 2023 target for $6 billion. Leading Turkish defence contractors, such as Baykar, depend heavily on exports, which can account for as much as 90% of their revenue. Baykar also has plans to manufacture in multiple countries including Azerbaijan and Ukraine via joint ventures.

Given Saudi Arabia’s recent moves to ramp up local defence industry production, the deal could even provide to be a lot bigger than it first appears. Two Saudi manufacturers last year confirmed that they had started produce Lentatek’s medium-altitude, long-endurance drone Karayel-SU under licence. The government also has several other UAV manufacturing projects with global partners and aims to increase overall local defence production to provide 50 percent of its national military requirements.

Expect to hear more details about Baykatar’s Saudi deal in the coming months.

by Carrington Malin