MILAN — Saudi Arabia is set to give a boost to Turkey’s struggling economy through a major drone contract negotiated with Turkish firm Baykar, one that the company’s CEO is calling the biggest sale between the two countries in Turkish defense history.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan embarked last week on a Gulf tour amid an ongoing financial crisis in Turkey, with the country’s currency plunging in value and inflation skyrocketing.
The first stop on Erdogan’s agenda was Jeddah, where he attended alongside Saudi’s ruler Mohammed bin Salman the signing of a contract between Baykar and the Saudi Ministry of Defense for the purchase of Akinci combat drones.
Bakyar CEO Haluk Bayraktar declined to comment on the total contract value and number of systems acquired, citing customer preference.
“What I can say is that it represents the biggest deal signed with Saudi Arabia in Turkish defense history in a single contract,” he told Defense News. Bayraktar added that the company’s flagship product, the TB2 drone, was not part of the deal.
The latest order makes Saudi Arabia the third confirmed Gulf operator of Turkish Baykar drones after Qatar and Kuwait. The latter announced last month it signed a contract worth $367 million for TB2s.
Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman stated in a tweet on July 18 that the country will acquire the systems “with the aim of enhancing the readiness of the Kingdom’s armed forces and bolstering its defense and manufacturing capabilities.”
Bayraktar said there are plans to carry out some of the production of the Akincis locally.
The deal represents a turn-around between the two countries who have often been at odds in the last decade, following Turkish support to Qatar during the 2017 diplomatic crisis and Erdogan joining Western powers in blaming the Saudi government, and Mohammed bin Salman specifically, for the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
Erdogan will also visit Qatar and the UAE during his Gulf visit.
Elisabeth Gosselin-Malo is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. She covers a wide range of topics related to military procurement and international security, and specializes in reporting on the aviation sector. She is based in Milan, Italy.