Turkey likely to take advantage of Central Asian drone market

Central Asian countries have been importing an unprecedented number of armed drones since the early 2020s.

In May, Iran inaugurated a factory in Tajikistan for making their Ababil-2 drones, single-use loitering munitions that crash into their targets and explode. At the end of 2021, Kyrgyzstan also ordered Orlan-10 medium-range drones from Russia, used mainly for reconnaissance and electronic warfare.

On the other hand, Turkey has exported its well-known Bayraktar TB2 drone to Kyrgyzstan Y turkmenistan and reached an agreement with Kazakhstan to manufacture Turkish Anka-S drones in that country, a much more sophisticated drone than the Ababil-2. Tajikistan too briefly reflected on buying TB2. Kyrgyzstan’s TB2s have already given that country advantage in its border conflict with Tajikistan.

Turkish has exported its TB2 drone to dozens of countries, leaving behind its Russian and Chinese competitors. It could enjoy similar success in Central Asia for a number of reasons.

Suleyman Ozeren, a professor at American University and a senior fellow at the Orion Policy Institute, believes that “Turkey will probably gain the upper hand over other competitors in Central Asia for two reasons.”

“First, the drone technology of Turkey has been shown to be better than the drone technology of Russia and Iran,” he told me. “Second, for Turkey, the sale of drones to Central Asian countries is more than military cooperation.”

“Through ‘drone diplomacy,’ Turkey intends to add another layer to its political, economic and military cooperation with Organization of Turkish States (OTS) members,” he said. “For example, the TB2 tips the scales in favor of Kyrgyzstan in the border conflict between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.”

The Russian invasion of Ukraine unknowingly helped Turkey expand its already sizeable share of the Central Asian drone market.

“Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine has created deep concern among Central Asian states about Moscow’s regional intentions,” Ozeren said. “For example, the deal between Kazakhstan and Turkey is one of the externalities of the Ukraine war.”

“For the same reason, the US and the EU could view Turkey’s growing influence in Central Asia as a positive development for the time being,” he added.

However, “drone diplomacy” is not without “risks and failures”, which could trigger “countermeasures” from China, Russia and Iran.

“Facing strong objections from Kyrgyzstan, Turkey was unable to finalize drone sales to Tajikistan, which then turned to Iran and signed an agreement with Tehran,” Ozeren said. “Inadvertently, Turkey allowed Iranian influence to grow in Tajikistan.”

“More importantly, while beneficial in the short term, Turkey’s drone diplomacy could deepen rivalries and conflicts in Central Asia, where Ankara’s positive influence has been based on its soft power measures,” he added. .

Then there is China, which already views Turkey as a “serious security challenge.”

“The civil war in Libya became an important showcase for the Bayraktar TB2, which outperformed the Chinese Wing Loong,” Ozeren said. “Consequently, China sees Turkey’s drone diplomacy in Central Asia as a threat, undermining the role of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in the cessation of hostilities between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and Beijing’s regional influence.”

Samuel Bendett, a research analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses, noted that TB2 sales to Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan are a clear indication that “these countries are looking to Turkey for a share of the MALE (medium-altitude, long-endurance) drone market. . .”

“The other drones are in the loitering and short-range munitions category, so it’s also clear that these states are looking at a better option for different classes of drones,” he told me.

“Central Asian countries are likely to keep their options open and source drones from different states, as well as invest in domestic UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) developments, like Kazakhstan today,” he said. “And it’s unlikely that any Central Asian country gets all its drones from the same state to make sure they don’t rely on one vendor for all their needs.”

“It is therefore unclear whether China-Turkey will be the only key suppliers of drone technology to the region, with Russian, American, Israeli and Iranian drones already in the region in service with these states,” he added. “Central Asian states will look to diversify their supplies, especially if countries are locked in geopolitical competition, such as Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.”

“Ultimately, I also think most of these countries will start investing in domestic drone solutions as well, turning to drone leaders for UAV technology that they can’t build themselves or that makes geopolitical sense.”

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