The Turkish Drone That Changed the Nature of Warfare – The New Yorker
Özdemir set out to secure government support for Selçuk’s drones. Özdemir was friendly with Necmettin Erbakan, an Islamic nationalist and a vitriolic critic of Western culture. Turkey had been a secular republic since the nineteen-twenties, but Erbakan, a professor of mechanical engineering, believed that by investing in industry and grooming technological talent the country could become a prosperous Islamic nation. In 1996, Erbakan had been elected Turkey’s Prime Minister, but he resigned from the post under pressure from the armed forces, and was banned from politics for threatening to violate Turkey’s constitutional separation of religion and the state. (Erbakan, who had developed connections with the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, blamed his ouster on “Zionists.”)
Bayraktar briefed Erbakan on his work, and by the mid-two-thousands Bayraktar was spending his school breaks embedded with the Turkish military. The Bayraktar family also had ties to Erbakan’s protégé, Erdoğan, who was elected Prime Minister in 2002. Bayraktar’s father had been an adviser to Erdoğan when he was a local politician in Istanbul, and Bayraktar recalled Erdoğan visiting the family house.
Bayraktar’s first drone, the hand-launched Mini U.A.V., weighed about twenty pounds. In early tests, it flew about ten feet, but Bayraktar refined the design, and soon the Mini could stay aloft for more than an hour. Bayraktar tested it in the snowy mountains of southeastern Anatolia, surveilling the armed rebels of the P.K.K., a Kurdish separatist movement. Feron recalled his astonishment when he contacted Bayraktar in the mountains. “He has no hesitation to go to the front lines, to really the worst conditions that the Turkish military can go into, and basically be with them, and live with them, and learn directly from the user,” he said. Bayraktar told me he prefers to field-test a drone in an active combat theatre. “It needs to be battle-hardened and robust,” he said. “If this doesn’t work at ten-thousand-feet elevation, at minus-thirty-degrees temperature, then this is just another item that you have to carry in your backpack.”
Bayraktar began developing a larger drone. In 2014, he débuted a prototype of the TB2, a propeller-driven fixed-wing aircraft large enough to carry munitions. That year, Erdoğan, who was facing term limits as Prime Minister, won the Presidential election. A popular referendum had given him control of the courts as well, and he began using his powers to prosecute political enemies. “They arrested not only a quarter of active-duty admirals and generals but also many of Erdoğan’s civil-society opponents,” Soner Cagaptay, who has written four biographies of Erdoğan, told me. Bayraktar dedicated his prototype to the memory of Erdoğan’s mentor, Erbakan. “He gave all his life’s work to changing the culture,” Bayraktar said. (In his posthumously published memoirs, Erbakan asserted that, for the past four hundred years, the world has secretly been governed by a coalition of Jews and Freemasons.)
In December, 2015, Bayraktar oversaw the first tests of the TB2’s precision-strike capability. Using a laser to guide dummy bombs, the drone was able to strike a target the size of a picnic blanket from five miles away. By April, 2016, the TB2 was delivering live munitions. The earliest targets were the P.K.K.—drone strikes have killed at least twenty of the organization’s leaders, along with whoever was standing near them. The strikes also taught Bayraktar to fight for the airwaves. Drones are controlled through radio signals, which …….