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The Drone Index: Baykar Bayraktar Akinci

November 23, 2021
A model of the Akinci on display at the SAHA Expo 2021. Via Baykar.

The idea of Turkish “air power” has reached an unexpected inflection point. While its air force is languishing for want of new fighters–the F-35A is now beyond reach–efforts to assemble a fifth-generation multirole fighter are equally in limbo. Meanwhile, the country’s aerospace manufacturers are enjoying their heyday for the positive media coverage given Turkish drones flown in different localized wars. Baykar gets the lion’s share of attention for the success of its TB2 UCAV but its latest high altitude long endurance (HALE) attack drone surpasses all expectations.

The Bayraktar Akinci is a twin engine HALE model with a 1.65 ton payload and epic mission endurance. Since its original flight tests in December 2019 the Akinci has exceeded its airborne mission time by a significant margin. In July 2021 it was aloft for 13 hours and by August it managed 25 hours and 46 minutes. Of course, these were just successive flight tests but Turkish media’s fawning coverage came mixed with impressive figures, celebrating the Akinci’s ability to cover distances exceeding 6,000 kilometers. It helps to visualize this as thousands of kilometers along planned flight paths rather than a single trans-continental journey.

The Bayraktar Akinci follows a standard layout for a HALE and is notable for its curvaceous airframe supporting two large engines–these are interchangeable 450 horsepower and 750 horsepower five blade turboprops. Its dimensions measure greater than some fighter jets, having a 12.2 meter long fuselage and a 20 meter wingspan. On paper, Baykar describes the Bayraktar Akinci as having a maximum speed of 360 km/h and a maximum altitude of 40,000 feet although flight tests in August 2021 involved a peak altitude of 38,000 ft.

But aside form its flight characteristics, which other HALE drones exceed, the Bayraktar Akinci is most impressive for its redundant autonomous taxiing and avionics. The manufacturer Baykar isn’t recognized enough for its in-house avionics expertise and this is baked into the Baykratar Akinci. When prepared for flight the Akinci is able to taxi, take off, and land on its own. Depending on the circumstances its autopilot system is triple redundant to spare the airframe from catastrophic loss. Turkish media have revealed the Bayraktar Akinci is equipped for electronic warfare and jamming to evade ground based air defenses.

Although the Bayraktar Akinci is a superb surveillance drone on paper–notice the EO/IR gimbal or pod fixed behind the landing gear–its marketing and media coverage emphasizes its combat role. At the recent SAHA Expo 2021 Baykar displayed a scale model loaded with precision guided ordnance; one SOM air-launched cruise missile under the fuselage, two gravity bombs and four laser-guided bombs on the wings, and two air-to-surface missiles on the wings. An alternate payload for close air support would be either eight or 10 (depending if the fuselage belly is used) MAM-L laser-guided bombs or MAM-C air-to-ground missiles. A standard payload is just three laser-guided bombs under each wing.

The first batch of Bayraktar Akinci HALE drones are entering service with the Turkish military in late 2021. No current UCAV in NATO is able to deliver a lethal payload with the same flight range as this one. By comparison, the single engine MQ-9 Reaper of the US Air Force has a smaller payload than the Bayraktar Akinci but surpasses it in mission endurance–27 hours versus 26 hours–and maximum altitude, which reaches 50,000 ft. The competition of the Akinci among twin engine models is out there. India’s DRDO are updating their twin engine Rustom 2 with the Tapas BH-201 that matches the flight performance and dimensions of the Bayraktar Akinci but its armaments and mission systems are undefined at the moment.

Meanwhile, in Russia the aerospace manufacturer Kronstadt Group is working on the Sirius HALE attack drone with the same capabilities as the Bayraktar Akinci. It may take years until either the Sirius or the Tapas BH-201 finish testing and are declared operational. In the context of Turkey’s status as a NATO ally, the Bayraktar Akinci is poised to give the alliance its best UCAV yet although it’s strange how a superior model made in Italy called the Hammerhead has never progressed beyond its advertising and some tests. Still, Turkey has offset its poor air force with another viable alternative to legacy combat aircraft. Baykar are now at work with a jet powered UCAV and this should be enough to bury any ill-informed assumptions about Turkish aerospace engineering.

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