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Saudi Arabia signs drone deals with Turkey's Baykar

As Erdogan visits the kingdom seeking investment opportunities, Turkish firm says it will export Akinci long-range aircraft
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman shake hands during a welcome ceremony in Jeddah 17 July (AP)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman shake hands during a welcome ceremony in Jeddah 17 July (AP)
By Ragip Soylu in Ankara

Saudi Arabia signed two drone-acquisition contracts with Turkish arms manufacturer Baykar, the kingdom's defence minister, Khalid bin Salman, said on Tuesday.

“Two acquisition contracts were signed between the Saudi Defence Ministry and Baykar, under which the defence ministry will acquire drones, with the aim of enhancing the readiness of the kingdom's armed forces and bolstering its defence and manufacturing capabilities,” Khalid bin Salman said in a statement.

Haluk Bayraktar, Baykar’s CEO, said the Saudis had inked a deal to import the company's medium-altitude long-endurance Akinci drone, as well as a cooperation agreement.

In a tweet, he called it the biggest defence and aviation export contract in Turkey's history with Saudi Arabia.

Baykar said in a statement: "With the comprehensive agreement, cooperation will be made on technology transfer and joint production in order to advance the high technology development capability of the two countries in the upcoming period."

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Last month, multiple sources told Middle East Eye that Saudi Arabia was interested in establishing a drone production line in Jeddah to produce a large amount of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Haluk Bayraktar told Turkish media on Tuesday that a separate “massive” deal to purchase smart munitions and other payloads from Turkey will be made in the future, and there would be local production.

Regional tour

The deal was signed as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the country as part of his regional tour to attract investment and finance from the Gulf states to reboot depleted Turkish foreign reserves.

Turkish Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek, a darling of the markets, and newly appointed Central Bank Governor Hafize Gaye Erkan also visited the kingdom last week, laying out the groundwork for Erdogan’s state visit.

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Ankara hopes to win some development and infrastructure contracts for Turkish firms to work on Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 scheme, which has a budget of hundreds of billions of dollars.

“The number of projects undertaken by our contractors in Saudi Arabia in the last 20 years is approximately $25bn,” Erdogan said on Monday.

Erdogan was welcomed by Saudi Arabia’s de-facto ruler and former rival, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in Jeddah. Erdogan gifted a domestically produced electric car called Togg to the crown prince. 

Later on Monday, the Turkish government signed four other agreements with the Saudis, including a joint deal to promote direct investments, communication and energy cooperation and defence.

Baykar’s chairman is Selcuk Bayraktar, Erdogan’s son-in-law. Baykar has made a name for itself worldwide in recent years through its battle-proven armed drones, including the Bayraktar TB2.

It has made $1.2bn worth of exports, including to Nato countries. The company is now currently developing an unmanned fighter jet called Kizilelma.

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