ANKARA, Turkey — A Turkish drone maker has begun the conceptual design phase of what it hopes will become the country’s first combat drone.
Haluk Bayraktar, the general manager of Baykar Savunma, said Feb. 28 that the aircraft is the firm’s “top priority program.”
The privately owned company will complete the conceptual design phase by 2023, the centennial of the Turkish republic, he added.
The planned drone will fly at an operational altitude of 40,000 feet. The artificial intelligence-powered aircraft will be able to perform missions for five hours, and will be connected to a satellite communications data network.
The fighter aircraft is expected to reach a cruise speed of 0.8 Mach and carry a maximum of 1 ton of ammunition. It would be used in close air support, strategic assault, hostile air defense system attack and missile assault missions.
Baykar’s program comes as Turkey faces uncertainties about its new-generation fighter requirements. The United States suspended Turkey’s partnership in the Joint Strike Fighter program that builds the F-35 due to Turkey’s purchase of the Russian-made S-400 air defense system.
Turkey is also running an indigenous fighter jet program, the TF-X, but this ambitious project has been crawling over technological snags and financing constraints.
BAE Systems helped TF-X with its conceptual design phase under a $125 million program, but Turkish authorities are yet to select an engine, which must come before additional progress is made in the design phase.
Burak Ege Bekdil is a Turkey correspondent for Defense News. He has written for Hurriyet Daily News, and worked as Ankara bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswires and CNBC-e television. He is also a fellow at the Middle East Forum and regularly writes for the Middle East Quarterly and Gatestone Institute.