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Selcuk Bayraktar: Türkiye transforming to a ‘technology-developing nation’

With Teknofest, the six-day mega technology event, underway until September 4 in the Black Sea province of Samsun, one man has captured headlines – and the imagination of a nation. 

On Tuesday, flagship Turkish drone manufacturer Baykar Technologies unveiled its latest unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), the Bayraktar Kizilelma, to much fanfare. And the man behind it – Baykar’s chairman and CTO Selcuk Bayraktar – is the closest any tech mogul gets to receiving rockstar treatment.

“Kizilelma is [Türkiye’s] first unmanned fighter aircraft. We have been waiting for it for 20 years,” Bayraktar told TRT World while speaking of the state-of-the-art drone and what it means for the Turkish defence industry.

Possessing an aggressive manoeuvrability, it can operate in the air for five hours with a maximum speed of 900 km/hr, the drone is expected to carry 1,500 kgs of payload, with a flight range of 930 km and an operational altitude of 35,000 feet.

The company expects its maiden flight to take place in 2023.

“It was our dream from day one,” he said, revealing the symbolism behind the drone’s name (Kizilelma means ‘red apple’), the representation of a hard-to-attain goal that moves further away just when it’s about to be reached.

“That was our Kizilema,” referring to the rigorous yet gratifying two-decade-long journey, one that sees Türkiye among only three countries in the world now capable of developing such advanced aerial technology.

Known for being the company to develop Türkiye’s first-ever indigenous drones, Baykar launched its inaugural drone weighing 10 kg in 2006, which flew only around three metres. 

Rapid progress would follow by 2014, when a twin-engine propeller aircraft large enough to carry missiles capable of accurately hitting a target up to 8 km away and flying for almost 24 hours without refuelling – the TB2 – was developed.

At the 2019 Teknofest, Baykar showcased the Bayraktar Akinci, which is capable of conducting operations that are performed alongside combat jets.

Today, Bayraktar is synonymous with Turkish military prowess around the world, with exports making up over 80 percent of its revenue. It garnered global attention with its success in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and other parts of the world, most recently in Ukraine, where Bayraktar TB2 drones became a symbol of resistance against Russian military might during the initial phase of the war.

When asked about the competitive field of UAV warfare and how his company stays ahead of the curve, he argues that their advantage “comes from the fact that we are always integrated into the field.”

“We upgrade our systems based on new needs and continuously innovate. That’s how we stay on top of the race,” he said. 

Under his watch, the Turkish armed forces have become among the world leaders in adopting UAVs in combat operations.

Bayraktar, who dismisses comparisons to Elon Musk but prefers to follow the footsteps of legendary Muslim scientists like Aziz Sancar, Ismail al Jazari and Al Farghani, is comfortable waxing about the intricacies of UAV warfare as he interacts with throngs of his adoring fans, be they 70-year-olds or 7-year-olds.

When discussing Teknofest, Bayraktar describes it as a “revolution” – in that it is an indication of how Türkiye is transforming “from a technology-consuming culture to a technology-developing nation.”

“We see the effects of it,” he said, pointing to the numerous technology competitions that are at the heart of the megaevent. This year features competitions in more than 40 different categories such as semiconductors, drones, satellites, rockets, robotics and AI.

“There is a lot more self-confidence in youngsters, in startups and in technology companies thanks to our [Baykar’s] success in the defence industry,” he added. 

But Bayraktar is not resting on the laurels of his company’s meteoric success, maintaining that more work needs to be done before Türkiye can become technologically self-sufficient and a global hub for innovation.

“Right now, we are totally focused on carrying that success to all civilian sectors of technology, and we are seeing that change come along,” he said. 

“But we have to do more, of course, for Türkiye to reach its goals of becoming a technology-developing and prosperous nation.” 

And for millions of his fellow countrymen and women, he is a symbol of what the new Türkiye aspires to be: confident and forward-thinking while serving the greater good of the country.

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