With Belarus Venture, Turkmenistan To Become Newest Eurasian Drone Manufacturer

On a visit to Turkmenistan, Belarus’s president, Alexander Lukashenko, announced on November 5 that Belarus would set up a joint venture in the Central Asian country to manufacture drone aircraft. The drones would be used “to monitor its [Turkmenistan’s] territory, its borders and drug-trafficking,” Lukashenko said in Ashgabat. If the plan is implemented, Turkmenistan would become just the latest country in the region to manufacture unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Armenia has produced what it says are locally manufactured surveillance drones, called the Krunk, and even claims to have reached a deal to export some of them to Denmark (though for civilian purposes). Armenia’s foe Azerbaijan, meanwhile, has jointly manufactured Aerostar and Orbiter 2M drones with the Israeli company Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), as well as buying the larger Heron and Hermes UAVs directly from Israel.

In 2011, Armenian forces in the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh shot down an Azerbaijani drone, likely a Hermes 450. And neighboring Iran has strenuously objected to Azerbaijan’s operation of Israeli UAVs, claiming that Israel is using the drones to spy on them.

In April 2012, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili unveiled what he called the country’s first indigenously produced UAV. Georgia was motivated in part by the fact that Israel, after selling Hermes 450 drones to Georgia, then reportedly gave datalink codes to Russia that enabled the Russian military to take control of them. (However, it soon emerged that the “Georgian” UAVs appeared to be in fact copies of an Estonian-produced drone, the Swan.) 

Kazakhstan has been negotiating with Israeli companies IAI and Elbit to set up drone manufacturing ventures there, while also looking to buy Russian UAVs. It also signed a deal with French manufacturer Sagem in 2010 to jointly produce drones in Kazakhstan, but that plan apparently never came to fruition.

Other countries have been buying drones. Uzbekistan has reportedly bought Chinese Wing Loong drones, which may have been involved in a bizarre episode in 2012 when Kazakhstan accused Uzbekistan of violating its airspace with a drone, but video of the supposed incident shown on local television turned out to be a hoax. (Whether or not there was in fact a real drone incursion has never been determined.) And the United States has agreed to send small surveillance drones to Uzbekistan, though American officials have not provided any details about that deal. Turkmenistan had already purchased a number of Russian drones. And even Abkhazia, the breakaway Georgian territory, has expressed interest in acquiring Russian UAVs.

In nearly all these cases the drones in question are not used for attack but surveillance, though Azerbaijan, at least, is reportedly interested in producing armed UAVs.

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