Turkey designing AI-powered combat drone

Turkish company Baykar Defence is starting work on conceptual designs for a combat drone as uncertainty continues over whether Turkey will be able to modernise its fighter jet fleet, analyst and journalist Burak Bekdil reported for website Defense News on Monday.

Baykar, owned by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s in-laws the Bayraktar family, plans to finish the conceptual design phase by 2023, the centennial of the Republic of Turkey, Bekdil said.

The combat drone will be powered by artificial intelligence, fly at an altitude of 40,000 feet, cruise at up to Mach 0.8, and will be able to carry one ton of ammunition, according to Bekdil.

Turkey is developing its indigenous TF-X fighter jet, but progress has been slowed while the authorities secure the purchase of engines, which will not be domestically manufactured.

The Pentagon suspended Turkey’s participation in the F-35 fighter jet development program in 2019 due to its purchase of Russian-made S-400 missile defence systems. The United States says the missiles are incompatible with NATO architecture and pose a security risk.

Baykar is the manufacturer of Bayraktar TB2 drones, which were used extensively in fighting late last year between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as in Syria and Libya, where Turkey has deployed troops and militants.

Turkey’s eleventh development plan, voted on in parliament in 2019, set out ambitious goals for the indigenous defence industry by the country’s centennial, including 75 percent domestic design and production and an almost doubling of employment in the sector.