From Drones to Fighters: The Dynamics of Ukraine-Turkey Defense Cooperation

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The burgeoning defense cooperation between Ukraine and Turkey has supported Kyiv in its fight to guard off Russia and shored up Ankara’s security while maintaining the two partners’ economies. But now, there’s a possibility to expand that partnership—and, in so doing, ensure the protection of the Black Sea and Europe.

The benefits of that collaboration have been made more apparent over the past two years, with Bayraktar TB2 drones—simulated by Turkish defense company Baykar—capturing headlines for helping Ukraine by maintaining Kyiv’s air-strike qualifications at the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion.

Just weeks before Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the war, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan—during a visit to Kyiv—made a deal with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to permit Ukrainian factories to create Turkish drones. That deal carries fruit, with Baykar breaking ground on a drone manufacturer near Kyiv in February. The factory, which will take twelve months to produce, is expected to develop five hundred jobs and produce 120 units annually. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg indicated to the project, naming it an example of how NATO allies are sustaining Ukraine not only “with direct deliveries of weapons and ammunition but also by funding in and ramping up their capacity to produce their weapons.”

Turkey and Ukraine’s strategic partnership extends further. For example, Baykar’s Akıncı combat drone and its Kızılelma combat drone use Ukrainian-made Ivchenko-Progress engines. The Kızılelma has even been named a “Turkish bird with a Ukrainian heart.” Kyiv and Ankara also collaborate in the maritime domain; since 2021, Turkey has been assembling two Ada-class anti-submarine corvettes for Ukraine’s naval forces, anticipated to be completed and delivered this year. The Ukrainian Armed Forces acquired Cobra II tactical vehicles—created by Turkish company Otokar—and were caught deploying them last year. Also, in 2023, Ukraine dispatched two engines to the Turkish Aerospace Industries for the business T929 ATAK-II attack helicopter; Ukraine has dedicated to sending twelve more by 2025.

While the discharge of Turkish defense equipment northward to Ukraine has been pungent, it has undergone headwinds. For example, European countries have been incapable of agreeing on topping up the European Peace Facility, the instrument with which the European Union funds weapons stockpiles for Ukraine. France, Greece, and Cyprus have barred additional financing out of a passion to ensure that funds are disbursed on weapons, technologies, and ammunition from the EU. Greece stated that it did not want the funds to go to Turkish defense companies. The countries should relinquish this request—France has recently procured artillery. Providing Ukraine is not just about Kyiv’s security but also about Black Sea security and Euro-Atlantic security.

Moreover, Ukraine-Turkey cooperation on joint engine exhibition for the KAAN jet would contribute to Ukraine’s economy and also supply Turkey a trustworthy and stable partner in supporting its self-defense—political ranges between Ankara and the West could potentially erupt into steps such as export license prohibitions as was the case in 2019 with some European Union governments’ restricting arms exports following Turkey’s procedure in northeast Syria and with the US inflicting sanctions on Turkey following Ankara’s acquisition of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system.

NATO countries have recognized the important function that fighter jets play in the region’s security. Ukraine has been proposed sixty second-hand F-16 fighter jets by the Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway. Last year, Denmark, the US, and the UK started training Ukrainian pilots. In November last year, Romania acquired three of the thirty-two F-16s it purchased from Norway. By 2025, Romania is anticipated to own forty-nine F-16s. Bulgaria is also gearing up to acquire the sixteen F-16 Block 70 fighter jets it purchased from the US; the first eight are predicted to arrive by 2025.

Turkey intends to export some KAAN jets, which could present countries with an alternative to fighter aircraft made and sold by Russia and China. And, once Turkey has more KAAN jets off the ground and more F-16s boosted in its fleet, it could help Ukraine with second-hand F-16s or operate as a repair and upgrade epicenter for the F-16s that Ukraine and other Black Sea countries own.

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