BAKU: Looping in the air at lightning speed, Turkish drones like those used against Russian forces in Ukraine draw cheers from the crowd at an air show in Azerbaijan.
Turkey is showcasing its defense technology at the aerospace and technology festival “Teknofest” that started in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku this week.
Turkey’s TB2 drones are manufactured by aerospace company Baykar Defense, where Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly prominent son-in-law Selcuk Bayraktar is chief technology officer.
On Wednesday, Bayraktar flew over Baku aboard an Azerbaijani air force Mikoyan MiG-29 plane. One of his combat drones, the “Akinci,” accompanied the flight.
A video showing Bayraktar in command of the warplane, dressed in a pilot’s uniform decorated with Turkish and Azerbaijani flag patches, went viral on social media.
“This has been a childhood dream for me,” Bayraktar told reporters after the flight.
Turkey’s drones first attracted attention in 2019 when they were used during the war in Libya to thwart an advance by rebel commander, General Khalifa Haftar, against the government in Tripoli.
They were then again put into action the following year when Turkey-backed Azerbaijan in recapturing most of the land it lost to separatist Armenian forces in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Azerbaijani audience members at the aviation festival applauded during a display of TB2 drones, which are now playing a prominent role against invading Russian forces in Ukraine.
A senior official from the Turkish defense industry said his country was facing a wide spectrum of “threats,” including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and Daesh.
The PKK is listed as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies.
But with NATO allies — including the US — having imposed embargoes on Turkey, Ankara was forced to take matters into its own hands to build defense equipment, the official said. “The situation is changing now with the war in Ukraine,” the official said.
Turkey has been looking to modernize its air force after it was kicked out of the F-35 fighter jet program because of its purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system.
But Ankara’s role in trying to mediate an end to the Ukraine conflict through direct negotiations may have helped improve its relations with Washington in the past months.
In April, US President Joe Biden’s administration said it now believed that supplying Turkey with F-16 fighter jets would serve Washington’s strategic interests.
Michael Boyle, of Rutgers University-Camden in the US, said Turkish drones such as Bayraktar TB2 drones were “increasingly important to modern conflicts because they have spread so widely.”