On The Radar
Baykar Technologies’ plans to develop its Cezeri personal air vehicle (PAV) may be getting a boost from the Turkish industrial group’s growing defense sales. The privately-owned group has extensive experience developing military drones, as well as command, control, communication, computer, and intelligence systems and payload hardware.
In particular, the company’s Bayraktar TB2 tactical armed unmanned air vehicle (UAV) is attracting interest from prospective export customers as an alternative to far more expensive U.S.-produced military drones. In December, UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace hailed the performance of the TB2, fueling reports that the British Army may consider the technology as part of the five-year defense acquisition review that is due to start in the coming weeks.
The latest showcase for the TB2 has been the armed conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory. Azerbaijani forces used the drone to destroy Armenian armored vehicles, artillery, and air defense systems. Video reports from the war zone suggest that ground troops were also killed by missiles fired from the TB2.
The medium-altitude, long-endurance UAVs reportedly cost no more than $2 million apiece, which is barely 10 percent of the price for more sophisticated alternatives such as General Atomics’ Protector. It can stay airborne for just over 24 hours, offering significant operational flexibility.
However, there are contentious ramifications from the deployment of the TB2 for military missions that could impact Baykar’s plans in the civil aviation sector. The drones were initially developed in response to a U.S. ban on exports of armed UAVs to Turkey.
In November 2020, the Armenian National Committee of America released a report showing components found in TB2s shot down by Armenian forces. They included navigation systems made by U.S. company Garmin and targeting equipment from Canada’s Wescam (for which Baykar is an authorized service center). According to a report in The Guardian, Garmin responded by instructing dealers not to sell its equipment to Baykar, and the Canadian government put a block on sales of Wescam units to Turkey.
As Baykar advances plans for a larger prototype of the Cezeri PAV, it remains to be seen to what extent it may seek to include foreign-made equipment in the aircraft. At the same time, interest from further prospective military export companies, including NATO-members like the UK, could change the company’s political landscape, as could a new U.S. administration.
Meanwhile, the Turkish government, eager to find new allies, has been moving closer to the Chinese leaders in recent years, as witnessed by the recent ratification of an extradition treaty through which exiled Uighurs could be sent back to China, which faces allegations of persecuting the Muslim minority group. It remains to be seen whether closer Turkey-China relations could lead to more cooperation between aviation companies in the respective countries.
An early sub-scale example of the single-seat Cezeri made a first tethered flight on Sept. 11, 2020, at the Baykar Technologies research and development center in Istanbul and made further untethered flights on September 15. The vehicle, which weighs just over 500 pounds, reached an altitude of 33 feet, which is far lower than the projected maximum operating altitude of more than 6,500 feet.
Baykar said it will start work on larger and more advanced prototypes. However, the group’s chief technology officer, Selcuk Bayraktar, has indicated that it may be another 10 to 15 years before Baykar has a PAV available for use in urban and suburban areas and that this may take the form of a larger model that he referred to as Alici. Bayraktar is a son-in-law of Turkish President Recep Erdogan.
The planned all-electric, single-seat Cezeri was unveiled in September 2019 at the Teknofest Aviation, Space, and Technology event at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, which also featured the TB2 drone. This early-technology demonstrator was remotely controlled from the ground, but Bayraktar indicated that subsequent flight testing of a larger prototype will be conducted with a pilot.
The design is named after the 12th-century scientist Ismail al-Jazari (also known as Al Cezeri in Turkish). It is expected to operate at a cruise speed of around 60 mph and with a range of up to around 50 miles.
The company claims to hold patterns for autonomous flight controls and sensors. It is developing the PAVs through a subsidiary called Cezeri Artificial Intelligence and Robotic Technologies.