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Iran May Unintentionally Boost Sales of Turkish Drones and US Missiles

Two incidents involving Iran may have inadvertently given a boost to Turkey’s drone sales and U.S. air defense missile exports, all in the space of less than two months.


Two opposing polar narratives have played out in Turkish and Iranian state media since May 19, when a helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and other officials crashed in the northwest of the country, killing everyone on board.

After that accident, a Turkish Bayraktar Akinci drone entered Iranian airspace amid poor weather conditions to assist in the search and rescue mission.

Since then, Turkish and Iranian media have hotly questioned the true meaning of that mission.

Turkish media covered the drone mission in detail, insisting that Akinci located the crash site and transmitted “critical information” to Tehran. Articles in the Turkish press insist that Akinci deserves much credit for his role in searching for the crash site. Selcuk Bayraktar, president of the company that manufactured the Akinci, predictably praised the role played by the drone that night, insisting that it demonstrated its ability to withstand adverse weather conditions in mountainous terrain.

While poor weather and visibility hampered the ability of many Iranian aircraft to search for Raisi’s Bell 212 helicopter, Iranian military officials and media dispute Turkey’s narrative, claiming that the Akinci failed to locate it “accurately.” the place.

Turkey responded to such claims on Thursday, reaffirming that the Akinci found the helicopter and that Ankara had “rushed to help Iran in its dark day and fulfilled the need for good neighborly relations.”

To deflect the impression that Akinci accomplished what Iranian drones could not, the Iranian military said it could not send synthetic aperture radar drones since they were operating in the northern part of the Indian Ocean.

Iranian media also heavily criticized Turkey for flying the Akinci over sensitive sites during its search and for drawing the crescent and star of the Turkish flag over Lake Van in eastern Turkey upon its return, while millions of people were watching live on numerous flight tracking apps.

Iranian officials, including the late president, boasted of growing international interest in the country’s indigenous military drones. While Tehran has struck deals to sell its drones to some countries, they are not as popular as their Turkish counterparts, which are exported much more widely. Türkiye exported its well-known Bayraktar TB2 to more than 30 countries in five years.

The Akinci drone is much larger, more sophisticated and more expensive than the TB2 and probably won’t win as many export contracts. Still, Pakistan and Azerbaijan have acquired it. Much to Iran’s chagrin, Ankara and drone maker Baykar Defense will likely point to Akinci’s role in the search for Raisi’s helicopter in future sales pitches. The drone’s high endurance and powerful sensors will certainly mark a unique selling point for countries looking for high-tech drones.


As Turkey and Iran promoted divergent narratives about Akinci’s performance, officials from the United States and the six member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council met Wednesday in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. In these meetings, the United States aims to promote its goal of building a regional anti-missile shield.

To sell the idea, the Americans point to the successful interception of more than 300 Iranian missiles and drones fired at Israel on April 13 and 14 in the first direct Iranian attack against its archenemy. Israel’s multiple air defenses, supported by American, British, French and Jordanian fighter jets, which shot down the drones before they could reach Israel, intercepted 99 percent of the incoming munitions.

If successful, the initiative will undoubtedly pave the way for even more lucrative American and Western arms sales to the region. The UAE already operates the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System, THAAD, and was the first to use it in combat to shoot down a ballistic missile launched by the Houthis in Yemen in January 2022. Saudi Arabia also ordered the system.

The United States has advised its regional allies not to purchase advanced Chinese-made weapons systems, citing interoperability issues. While American partners in the regions have purchased Chinese drones, they have not shown much interest in high-end Chinese or Russian air defense systems. Abu Dhabi and Riyadh recently ordered South Korean-built KM-SAM medium-range air defense missile systems, which are purchased from a close US ally and are not likely to present major interoperability issues.

Consequently, for the foreseeable future the Arab Gulf States will predominantly deploy US-made air defense missiles that could one day be integrated, posing a significant challenge to any future action by Iran or its myriad allied militias. If Iran’s April 13-14 attack finally convinces regional states of the proof of concept for this project, that would mark another example of Tehran’s actions backfiring.

Washington has also pledged to help Jordan improve its air defenses amid threats from militia drones from Iraq and Syria. The kingdom is ordering at least 12 modern F-16 Block 70s to upgrade its air force and will likely pursue more air-to-air missiles. Amman may also join a regional air defense initiative if it helps secure the deployment of a Patriot missile system on its territory, which it has called for since October amid simmering regional tensions sparked by the ongoing Gaza war.

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