The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) inaugurated its Air Corps, marking a significant enhancement in the country’s surveillance capabilities with the introduction of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). The historic event, which saw the unveiling of three ‘Bayraktar TB2’ drones, took place at Maafaru International Airport in Noonu Atoll, presided over by President Dr. Mohamed Muizzu.

For centuries, the Maldives has lacked the ability to monitor its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) comprehensively, relying heavily on foreign nations for support. This move towards establishing a dedicated Air Corps, equipped with advanced UAV technology, aims to fulfil President Muizzu’s pledge to achieve independence in military surveillance and reduce the country’s dependency on foreign military assistance.

The ‘Bayraktar TB2′ drones, procured under an agreement with the Turkish government, represent a significant advancement in the Maldives’ military capabilities. With an operational range of up to 300 kilometres and the ability to carry out precision strikes, these UAVs are expected to bolster the MNDF’s ability to conduct surveillance and, if necessary, engage in attack missions.

A Bayraktar TB2 drone manufactured by Baykar Technologies on display at the ceremony held at Maafaru International Airport, Noonu Atoll, on Friday, 15 March 2024. | Photo: President’s Office

However, this military development has been marred by controversy. The opposition Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) has accused the government of financial impropriety in the procurement of the drones, alleging that the acquisition was a “huge scam” aimed at diverting funds for the upcoming parliamentary election campaign. According to MDP’s parliamentary campaign spokesperson, the procurement process bypassed established protocols and was financed through the contingency budget, raising questions about the transparency and motivation behind the acquisition.

The MDP has also criticised the government for not continuing with initiatives started by the previous administration, which aimed to acquire drone technology free of charge from a friendly nation. These efforts were halted following the change in government, leading to the current administration’s decision to procure drones from Turkey.

The Muizzu administration, on the other hand, has defended the procurement as a necessary step towards ensuring the nation’s security and surveillance capabilities. The government argues that the UAVs will enable round-the-clock monitoring of the Maldives’ EEZ, enhancing maritime security and protecting the country’s borders from illicit activities such as drug trafficking.