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Engines for Bayraktars: how Ukraine helps Turkey produce cutting-edge combat drones

turkish drone kizilelma ukraine engine
The Baykar Bayraktar Kızılelma jet-powered, single-engine, low-observable, carrier-capable; unmanned, high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) aerial vehicles (UCAV)/ Source: pikabu,aviation and technology, author @xdizas
Engines for Bayraktars: how Ukraine helps Turkey produce cutting-edge combat drones
Article by: Bohdan Miroshnichenko
Translated by: Kate Ryabchiy
Ukraine manufactures engines for Turkish cruise missiles, helicopters, and drones — not only for the iconic Bayrakar combat drone, but also Kızılelma and Akıncı. How did this partnership become possible, how is going despite Russia’s war, and can the Turkish orders offset cooperation with Russia?

The year 2022 proved to be a watershed year for both Ukraine and Turkish aviation. As the Turkish Bayraktar range debuted two heavy combat drones, Kızılelma and Akıncı. These two are the flagships of unmanned aviation, which create partnership opportunities for and heavily rely on Ukraine’s robust engines. These models necessitate four times more powerful engines, which Turkish plants cannot currently mass-produce.

Despite Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the demand for Ukrainian engines is a breakthrough for the country in its own way. Turkish Baykar Makina is one of the few global manufacturers of combat drones. These models necessitate four times more powerful engines, which Turkish plants cannot currently mass-produce. Today, only robust Ukrainian-made engines are capable of powering these aircraft.  

For Turkish aviation, 2022 was a watershed year. Baykar debuted the Kızılelma unmanned fighter jet and signed the first export contracts for the Akıncı heavy combat drone.

akıncı heavy combat drone
Akıncı heavy combat drone/ Source:

Both are the flagships of unmanned aviation in Türkiye. They can carry up to 1,500 kg loads, take off to altitudes greater than 12 km, and engage aerial targets. Moreover, robust Ukrainian-made engines power these aircraft.

The serial production of these drones is a major priority for Ukraine.

Turkish unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) present an opportunity for Ukrainian machine builders to establish a reliable military-technical partnership with Türkiye, promote their engines internationally, receive new orders, and partially offset the loss of the Russian market.

Why should Türkiye and Ukraine cooperate?

Ukraine was unable to receive Western military equipment for many years. In 2018, Ukrainian defenders received their first shipment of the US Javelin anti-tank missiles, let alone more potent weapons.

Ukraine had to rely solely on its military-industrial complex (MIC) in its war with Russia.

Türkiye is in a comparable circumstance, albeit for a different reason. The country’s geopolitical ambitions and purchase of Russian S-400 air defense systems resulted in sanctions in 2020.

Western countries have restricted the supply of critical components to Ankara, and the US has frozen Ankara’s order for 100 fifth-generation F-35 fighters. It compelled President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to establish a unique military industry, and Ukraine proved to be a valuable ally.

“In Ukraine, military technologies flourished throughout the 20th century, whereas in Türkiye, the boom has only occurred in recent decades. Consequently, Ukrainians have a greater command of engineering technologies, whereas Turks excel in IT and electronics. These strengths of the MICs of both nations perfectly complement each other,” explains Denys Moskalyk, coordinator for International Policy at the Center for Political Studies “Doctrine.”

The absence of territorial and ideological disputes between states fosters cooperation.

Temel Kotil, Director General of Turkish Aerospace Industries, stated that Ukraine is a brotherly country with which they will have no problems with embargoes and sanctions.

Following the annexation of Crimea, Ukraine and Türkiye’s cooperation in the MIC has deepened substantially.

Both countries’ defense ministries signed a four-year military cooperation plan in 2016. A few years later, more than 30 joint projects linked Ukrainian and Turkish defense enterprises.

kizilelma combat drone baykar
The second prototype of the Bayraktar Kizilelma jet-powered combat drone, August 2022, Türkiye/ Source: Militarnyi, photo by BAYKAR

The Turkish defense corporation Aselsan equips the Ukrainian man-portable anti-tank guided missile system (ATGM) “Stuhna-P (Skif)” (Ukrainian analog of Javelin ATGM) with thermal imaging cameras and supplies combat modules ((remote weapons stations (RWS)) a set of weapons, radar, and electronic warfare systems) for armored vehicles “Kozak-2M” and “BTR-60 Khorunzhiy” (armored personnel carriers (APCs)).

Additionally, Türkiye is building hulls for Ukrainian Ada-class corvettes (an anti-boat coastal zone stealth-corvette). The first, Hetman Ivan Mazepa, was introduced in October.

Simultaneously, Ukraine supplied Türkiye with Zaslin-M active protection systems (APS) for M60 tanks. Ukraine also retains an inexhaustible capacity to produce aircraft engines.

Additionally, the countries have joint projects that have already attracted customers from the Middle East.

For example, in 2019, Qatar ordered the Serdar combat module, produced jointly by the Luch Design Bureau and Aselsan. According to the Militarnyi portal, these modules were installed on Ukrainian vehicles during Russia’s full-scale invasion.

The highlight of this partnership is the provision of Ukrainian engines to Turkish aviation. Domestic enterprises assemble engines for Turkish cruise missiles, helicopters, and unmanned aerial vehicles.

Ukrainian engines in Bayraktar

Turkish Baykar Makina is one of the few manufacturers of attack drones worldwide.

The company’s most successful creation is the Bayraktar TB2 UAV medium-altitude attack drone, powered by Rotax 912 engines manufactured by the Canadian company Bombardier Recreational Products Inc. (BPR). The Oryx project analysts have counted 871 targets destroyed by these drones using only publicly available information.

The devices have demonstrated efficacy in conflict zones, and 24 countries have signed export contracts.

TB2 effectively targets armored vehicles, but the company decided to develop “fully-loaded” Bayraktars that can also shoot down air targets. These are unmanned, high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) aerial vehicles (UCAVs)

The Baykar Bayraktar Akıncı combat UAV and the Kızılelma jet-powered, single-engine, low-observable, carrier-capable UCAV are in question. Unlike the Bayraktar TB-2, these models require four times more powerful engines, which Turkish factories cannot yet mass-produce.

baykar attack drones
Baykar company’s Attack UAVs/ Source: Ekonomichna Pravda

Türkiye is dependent on foreign export licenses and sanctions policies if it imports engines from Western nations, whereas there are no obstacles to a partnership with Ukrainian aircraft manufacturers.

Baykar Technology explained that few engine options are available for Akıncı and Kızılelma on the international market. In addition to the quality and cost-effectiveness of Ukrainian engines, the company has established relationships with domestic manufacturers.

Ukrainian-Turkish cooperation is constantly expanding in the supply of finished UAVs and engines for them.

Researcher: Ukraine will build its own long-range missiles. If the West allows.

To implement and support contracts in Ukraine and to localize production, Baykar is increasing the number of employees with Ukrainian education and language knowledge.

The production of engines for Türkiye is a collaborative effort of several Ukrainian state and private enterprises involved in the design, assembly, spare part production, and warranty services.

Ukrainian engines AI-450T and, in the future, MS-500 (turboprop engine) will power Akıncı, while AI-25TLT and AI-322F will power the more powerful Kızılelma. Because different configurations necessitate different engines, each UAV has two equipment options.

According to the Defence Express military portal, one of Ukroboronprom’s aviation enterprises has agreed to supply Türkiye with over 500 engines worth approximately $600 million between 2021 and 2030.

Ukroboronprom ordered $7 million in spare parts in 2021 for producing 30 AI-450T engines, with delivery by the end of 2022. This supply is enough to outfit 15 Akıncı drones.

haluk bayraktar ukroboronprom engine kizilelma
Haluk Bayraktar (second from left) with representatives of Ukroboronprom near the engine chosen for Kizilelma/ Source: Wikipedia, Türkçe Vikipedi

Cooperation with Türkiye has become more difficult since February 24, as Russia has repeatedly shelled the companies that manufacture the engines mentioned above.

“The war in Ukraine has a negative impact on the entire industry and complicates logistics. Despite this, it appears that Ukrainian engine manufacturers are making every effort to meet delivery deadlines. We have no qualms about cooperating with Ukraine, but there are objective risks. Both parties are attempting to reduce them,” Haluk Bayraktar, CEO of Baykar, stated.

Before the full-scale war began, the company planned to build a plant in Ukraine to manufacture the entire Baykar product line, including the Bayraktar TB2, Akıncı, and Kızılelma. These plans remain in place, and construction is set to be completed in two years.

Turkey’s Baykar to complete plant in Ukraine in two years – Reuters citing CEO

“It will be much more than a plant. We intend to establish a modern ecosystem in Ukraine, the Center for Advanced Unmanned Technologies, which will house high-tech production, R&D (research and development), and startup development space. We have no intention of delaying the project. Everything is proceeding as scheduled. There are many bureaucratic procedures over which we have no control,” added Haluk Bayraktar.

The Verkhovna Rada recently took a step toward overcoming these bureaucratic obstacles by ratifying the Ukraine-Türkiye agreement on cooperation in advanced technologies, aviation, and space industries.

Ukraine’s future cooperation with Türkiye

Increasing orders from Baykar will enable Ukrainian businesses to increase production and partially offset the loss of the Russian market.

However, it is too early to discuss this, as cooperation with Türkiye has only recently begun.

Contracts with Baykar stipulate the annual delivery of dozens of engines. According to aviation expert Kyrylo Novikov, these quantities are negligible compared to the capacity of Ukrainian businesses to produce hundreds of them.

The expansion of Ukrainian engine production for Türkiye will depend on the demand for Akıncı and Kızılelma. The greater the serial production of these drones, the greater the number of orders Ukrainian businesses will receive.

For mass production, orders from other countries are required. Baykar has no difficulty promoting its products in the global market. According to Bayraktar, exports accounted for 98% of the company’s sales in 2022.

In 2021, serial production of the Akıncı model began, and Türkiye has already signed four export contracts. In total, 20 UAVs were produced, but in 2023 there are plans to make an additional 40. The company guarantees that plans are “much more ambitious.”

Although the promising unmanned fighter Kızılelma is not yet in mass production, its tests have been completed ahead of schedule. It was expected to take flight for the first time in 2023, but it did so on 14 December 2022.

The production of the Turkish heavy attack helicopter ATAK-II by Turkish Aerospace Industries, which should become comparable to the American AH-64 Apache, is a separate topic. For these helicopters, Türkiye acquired 14 Ukrainian engines.

In 2023, ATAK-II will take flight for the first time, with the prospect of entering serial production.

Not only can the success of these Turkish designs increase the demand for Ukrainian engines within these projects, but it can also pave the way for new projects.

If Ukraine outfits its engines to technologically advanced UAVs for dozens of countries, it will domestically promote engines effectively.

However, Ukraine has few partners comparable to Türkiye. Other potential clients may only contract with Ukrainian businesses once they are confident in production safety.

Only the Armed Forces of Ukraine can solve this problem.

Read also:

Ukroboronprom and NATO member country to build plant to produce military equipment

Turkey seeks Ukraine peace talks despite Western actions, Erdoğan says – Reuters

Ukraine’s intelligence disrupted Russians’ deepfake attempt to contact the founder of Bayraktar company

Translated by: Kate Ryabchiy
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