Saturday, January 28, 2023

‘Outselling’ US F-16 Fighters & Closing In On MiG-21, This Uncrewed Jet Could Soon Become World’s Best-Selling Aircraft

Albania has become the latest country to purchase the Bayraktar TB2 drones, bringing the total number of countries to which the Turkish-made drone has been exported to 27, according to the manufacturer of the drone, Baykar.

Albania’s government announced on December 20 that it had purchased three Bayraktar TB2 combat drones that carry lightweight, laser-guided bombs.

The deal was signed on December 20. The government did not say how much it paid for the drones, when they would be delivered and whether Albania plans to buy more.

Prime Minister Edi Rama said the unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, would be armed and ready to fight, “which I hope will never occur.”

They will also monitor the country’s territory for drug planting, fires, flooding, and terrorist activity. “They will be ready for every occasion,” Rama said during the signing ceremony with representatives of Baykar in the capital, Tirana.

Some 30 members of the Albanian military are expected to be trained by Baykar on air control and operation.

They will operate from the Kucova air base, 80 kilometers south of Tirana. The air base is being renovated to support NATO air supply operations, logistics support, air policing, training, and exercises.

Turkey F-16

Notably, Albania, a NATO member since 2009, does not have fighter jets. Its air force comprises a few Cougar and other military helicopters after its old Russian and Chinese-made jets stopped flying in the late 1990s.

“We signed an export contract with Albania, a country we have walked alongside for centuries and share strong historical, cultural, and humanitarian ties,” said Haluk Bayraktar, CEO of Baykar.

Bayraktar TB2 Drone Sold To A Whopping 27 Countries!

According to Baykar, the number of countries to which the TB2 drone has been sold has risen to 27, including Poland, Qatar, Azerbaijan, Morocco, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan.

If true, this brings Bayraktar to the club of most exported aircraft in the world, including the American F-16 Fighting Falcon and Soviet-era Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 fighter jets.

The F-16 multirole fighter, the most widely exported American aircraft, has been sold to 26 countries across various regions, including Europe, the Middle East, and South and Southeast Asia.

This means that the Turkish-made Bayraktar has already overtaken the F-16 and is now second only to the Soviet-era MiG-21 fighter and interceptor, which was exported to more than 40 countries across several regions.

Croatian MiG-21 (cropped).jpg
Croatian MiG-21BIS-D in flight (Wikipedia)

While it is true that Bayraktar TB2 is an unmanned drone, while the F-16 and MiG-21 are full-fledged fighter jets with much larger payloads, the Bayraktar TB2 has achieved iconic status due to its successes on several battlefields, incomparable to any other combat aviation platform or a weapon system for that matter.

The war in Ukraine made the name ‘Bayraktar’ a part of the folklore of Ukraine’s resistance to the Russian invasion in the initial months when the Russian military was marching toward the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

Reports suggest that by March 20, close to 60 tanks, air defense systems, helicopters, supply trucks, and trains were taken out by TB-2 strikes.

The Ukrainians even composed a folk song about the TB2 drones, probably one of the first songs ever written about a combat drone.

The TB2s first rose to prominence after the 44-day Nagorno-Karabakh war in 2020, during which the Turkish-made drone played a pivotal role in securing victory for Azerbaijan over Armenia.

Likewise, during the Libyan civil war, Turkish drones helped the Government of National Accord (GNA) upend the siege of Tripoli by Khalifa Haftar-led Libyan National Army (LNA), which Russia heavily backed.

In Syria, Turkish drones have kept the Russian-backed forces from overtaking Idlib, the last rebel-held province in Syria. However, the Ukraine war earned Bayraktar TB2 an unprecedented amount of popularity and cult status around the world.

Bayraktar TB2 drone

“I can’t remember much fanfare around specific weaponry,” Joe Dyke, a London-based writer, researcher, and lead investigator for Airwars told The Independent. “No one sang songs about the Predator or Reaper drones. It’s a moment where everyone is talking about Bayraktar.”

The success stories surrounding the TB2 drones have brought a lot of customers to Baykar, with Albania being the latest one.

Even the neighboring Kosovo, which is going through an ethnic crisis, is planning to purchase Bayraktar drones.

In an interview with Turkey’s Anadolu Agency, Minister for Regional Development Fikrim Damka said that the country is working on purchasing Turkish-made Bayraktar drones.

“Surely, the issue of drones is on our agenda. Our country is working on this. Visits have been made. Our President and the Minister of Defense have visited the ‘Bayraktar’ drones. This is a long-term process. Every country wants to have drones in their military arsenal [sic],” Damka said.

Similar remarks were made by Selçuk Bayraktar, the Chief Technology Officer of Baykar, in an interview with Reuters in May, wherein he said: “The whole world is a customer.”

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