The story of why our local drones were delayed
It was years ago when I was first introduced to Özdemir Bayraktar at the daily Hürriyet building by my officemate, Hürriyet writer Yalçın Bayer. One of his sons was with him; I can’t remember which one, but I know they are all very intelligent people.
I’m relying on my memory on that encounter. Özdemir Bayraktar and his three sons owned a company called Baykar. Now, the youngest son, Selçuk Bayraktar, is famous because he married President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s daughter. He was a Ph.D. candidate at MIT at that time. Actually, he had finished his thesis but was postponing submitting it. The reason was the special telecommunication algorithms he had developed for his thesis and when the thesis was published everybody would learn the algorithms.
The company was trying to build unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) for the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) for many years. They had participated in a tender, were in the finals and conducted test flights in the Black Sea town Sinop. Their competitor’s test flight was unsuccessful at Sinop, but despite that and despite Baykar fulfilling successfully all the conditions of the tender, the bid went to the competitor with the failed test flight.
Özdemir Bayraktar was very close to Tayyip Erdoğan even before they became in-laws. Bayraktar was quite upset when he could not win the tender he deserved at a time when a person very close to him was the prime minister. But he did not give up. Because of the advanced technology they had, they were offered several partnerships, including their rival at Sinop. But Özdemir Bayraktar did not sell any shares of his company because he wanted to stay local and national.
As a matter of fact, he needed capital. He was producing at a workshop in Istanbul’s İkitelli district and he had to grow if he were to sell drones to the army.
If the Republic of Turkey was a smart state, then it would have done what the U.S. DARPA funds do: Ask for a five- to 10-year growth and management strategy from Bayraktar, then become a partner with the company and provide its capital. If Baykar was an American company, then today it would have been a company with a stock exchange value of more than $10 billion (later Baykar partnered with Kale Group and received some capital support).
But this is Turkey, and the system pulls down whoever is successful. Our state and our capital system would leave a company which is developing such a vital technology out in the cold, and would want to test first whether it would survive alone.
Fortunately (in my opinion, due to Özdemir Bayraktar’s strong determination and due to the extraordinary intelligence of his children), Baykar survived and continued production.
Today, even though none of the local UAV projects, including the state’s own, have been able to cross the test stage, theirs are flying and serving for months. They can even fly with weapons now. They were involved in a battle at Çukurca. Thus Turkey has become one of the few countries in the world that can produce armed UAVs.
If you ask me, Baykar succeeded despite the state. I hope other obstacles will not appear in their path from now on.
What makes a drone a drone?
UAVs, also called drones, started as mini planes for sportive or hobby aims. Of course military drones are much more complicated compared to these tiny vehicles.
Among several factors that make a professional drone are its flight range, altitude, endurance, its quietness, etc. But for a remote controlled drone, maybe the most important factor is the reliability of it flight and telecommunication systems. Well, a hacker can get ahold of your drone, or a hacker can monitor the images and information conveyed by your drone. These have to be prevented.
The third factor is what your done carries: Camera systems, including infrared and other wavelengths, the image resolution, the telecommunication systems that convey those images to the ground and whether the drone would be able to carry the load of weapons.
If Turkey is one of the few countries that can build its own drone, the contribution of the Bayraktar family in this is huge. But the share of the government and the TSK, which has put this target in front of the capital and science world in Turkey, which has insistently followed up and demanded, is the lion’s share. Soon, when another type of official project called ANKA is completed, Turkey will have a special place in the world in the field of drones. The information and experience accumulated here will open the way to very different gains in very different fields in the future for our country.