It has been revealed that the Turkish government is renting drones from Baykar, a company partly owned by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son-in-law, Selçuk Bayraktar, at a staggering cost of 1.2 million liras (approx. USD 45K) per day, regardless of whether the drones are in flight.
This revelation comes amidst persistent denials from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of any favouritism in awarding contracts in the defence industry. President Erdoğan had refuted these allegations in May, stating that neither he nor the AKP government has given any special treatment to the Bayraktar group.
Contrary to this, the General Directorate of Forestry (OGM) held a tender in April to rent six unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The total cost of the tender was 287 million 640 thousand TL (approx. USD 10.8M). Baykar, owned by President Erdoğan’s son-in-law, rented five UAVs for 1.2 million TL per day. The UAVs will serve for a total of 152 days between 1 June 2023 and 31 October 2023.
The cost increase for UAVs in two years was 2,354 per cent. In 2021, OGM held a tender for the lease of 4 UAVs to be used in forest firefighting services. At that time, Baykar leased 3 UAVs to the state for 4 million 320 thousand TL (approx. USD 163K). In the tender held this year, the price requested by Baykar for a single UAV was 35 million 343 thousand TL (approx. USD 1.3M).
This news follows a heated debate in April, before the May elections, between the main opposition’s presidential candidate Kılıçdaroğlu and drone maker Baykar about the future of Istanbul’s old Atatürk Airport. Kılıçdaroğlu suggested turning the airport into a place for learning about aviation and space, but Baykar’s CTO Haluk Bayraktar criticised this, claiming Kılıçdaroğlu planned to give the airport to a US company.
While Turkey’s drone program has gained attention due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, drones in warfare are increasingly a global concern, and their use has proven deadly in places like northeast Syria against peaceful Kurdish, Yazidi, and Armenian communities. A recent Turkish drone strike in the Qamishli countryside killed four Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters, marking the second such event in just 48 hours. Analysts caution that the current praise for this drone system points to a larger issue: global support for a Turkish foreign policy that risks the lives of persecuted groups.