Maldives Establishes Air Corps and Inducts UAVs into Service

Air Corps Establishment and UAV Induction

On March 15th, the President of the Maldives, Mohamed Muizzu, announced the creation of the country’s National Defence Force’s first Air Corps and inducted three Bayraktar TB2 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV). The nighttime induction ceremony occurred at Maafaru International Airport, located at Noofu Atoll in the northern Maldives. During the first part of the ceremony, two Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) Lt. Generals spoke at the ceremony before the establishment ceremony for the Air Corps occurred. President Muizzu then gave a speech regarding both the Air Corps and the Bayrakar UAVs.

President Mohamed Muizzu, Maldivian Defense Minister Mohamed Ghassan Maumoon, and MNDF Chief of Defence Staff Lt. General Abdul Raheem Abdul Latheef standing during establishment ceremony of MNDF’s Air Corps (Photo: The President’s Office of the Republic of the Maldives)

President Muizzu then gave a speech regarding both the Air Corps and the Bayrakar UAVs. Muizzu emphasized that the “Maldives isn’t a small nation, the President stated that the Maldives stretches along nine hundred thousand square kilometres and is capable of monitoring its jurisdiction.” Furthermore, he also emphasized that the Maldives is an “independent and sovereign nation” and that monitoring of the country’s territory should not be the concern of “any external parties.” However, Muizzu pointed out that the Maldives using UAVs to monitor its jurisdiction would not impede or interfere with the country’s relationships with all countries. He also said that some of the TB2s were donated by Turkey, saying he is “proud to note that many of these equipment have been donated free of charge to the country because of the close relations [between the Maldives and Turkey].”

During the speech, Muizzu also announced that the Maldives will launch new initiatives to increase the country’s “military capabilities.” The president announced the start of an initiative to “mobilise resources to recondition neglected military resources and bring them up to a standard for military use and public service.” For example, he said that the government “would double the capacity of the Coast Guard, expand the Air Corps fleet, and enhance land-based vehicles and platforms.” Muizzu also affirmed the importance of the country to navigate “its course towards self-reliance and remaining an independent and sovereign nation in every aspect.” He also said that defending the country is a duty for all citizens and that its independence and sovereignty “must be in the common interest of the entire populace, despite varying ideologies.”

Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu, his wife, Maldivian Defense Minister, and other senior officials inspecting TB2 UAV
(Photo: The President’s Office of the Republic of the Maldives)

The president also presented the two UAVs to the audience during the ceremony. Then Muizzu and other senior military officers and officials gathered to look at and touch the Bayraktar while taking photos with it. The president and the audience then witnessed the Air Corps conduct a flight operation of the TB2 UAV.

Acquisition of TB2s and Potential Controversy

The acquisition of the TB2s began in late November 2023, when President Muizzu visited Turkey after being sworn in as the Maldives’ President. During the visit, Muizzu inspected various vehicles produced by Turkish military firms, such as Baykar, and signed an agreement with the company to begin the process of importing UAVs into the country. However, in January 2024, the government announced they signed an approximately $37 million USD (570 MVR million) deal with the company to buy a number of the drones from the company.

A government official said that the three TB2s and associated equipment were delivered via a Kyrgyz airline company to Maafaru International Airport on March 3rd. He also said the MNDF was working to start UAV operations at the airport “within the next week.” The delivery came one day before Muizzu said that the Maldives is trying to establish a “24/7 monitoring system” to effectively monitor its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Then on March 14th, videos appeared on social media showing one of the Bayraktars in flight near Nooru Atoll. Furthermore, the airport operators also leased the airport’s hangar to the MNDF until August.

MDP parliamentary campaign spokesperson Ahmed Easa discussing corruption allegations against current government during press conference on March 12th (Photo: Dhauru.mv)

The TB2 deal caused the Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) to allege that the agreement involved elements of corruption. MDP parliamentary campaign spokesperson Ahmed Easa highlighted the allegations during a March 12th press conference as he talked about other corruption allegations connected to the current government. Easa labeled the agreement as a scam that involved the government buying the UAVs at high prices to quickly access funds for the parliamentary elections. He said that the unbudgeted funds taken from the contingency budget are “highly questionable” and that the government did it “in violation of the general rule,” which raised the MDP’s suspicion.

The MDP also said that the previous government examined the possibility of using drones to monitor its territories, such as what territory will be covered and which number of UAVs will be used. The government was also in discussion with a “friendly country” to provide UAVs “free of charge” when the government changed. They also examined the prices of various UAVs across the world to determine what would be the best-priced option. Easa then said that it was “questionable” how Muizzu became president and quickly signed the agreement with Tukey.

Analysis

The creation of the Air Corps and the induction of the TB2’s into service will significantly increase the Maldives’ surveillance capabilities to monitor its EEZ. The basing of the TB2s at Maafaru International Airport is likely part of the MNDF’s testing of the possibility of using the TB2s to conduct 24-hour surveillance missions. The temporary, short-term lease for the airport’s hangar indicates that the government will likely either build a hangar for the UAVs at the airport or a nearby atoll. The government will also deploy the other TB2s to other atolls with the necessary infrastructure to conduct tests to determine the best location to permanently station the UAVs.

The UAVs are also part of the current government’s plan to reduce India’s role in monitoring its territory and to fulfill Muizzu’s campaign promise of removing the country’s presence. After his election as president, Muizzu visited both Turkey and China instead of India, marking the first time a Maldivian president did not visit the country after being elected. While the Maldives signed a deal for TB2s from Turkey, Muizzu’s January 2024 trip to China also included discussions regarding the possibility of buying drones from the country.

Furthermore, the president also negotiated for India to slowly remove the approximately 90 military personnel stationed in the country by May 10th. The personnel were stationed in the Maldives to operate two Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) Dhruv medium utility helicopters and one Dornier 228 amphibious airplane. Furthermore, the president also negotiated for India to slowly remove the approximately 90 military personnel stationed in the country by May 10th. The personnel were stationed in the Maldives to operate two Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) Dhruv medium utility helicopters and one Dornier 228 amphibious airplane.

The allegations of corruption by the MDP likely do have merit due to the relatively short timeframe it took to complete the deal. While it is likely that Muizzu’s government simply picked up where the previous government left off, the sidestepping of budgetary procedures goes against this possibility. Another aspect that points to corruption is that the MDP said that they were in talks to acquire UAVs from a “friendly country” when Muizzu won the election. While the MDP did not say who was the “friendly country” they were negotiating with, it is highly likely that it was India since they have good relations with the country.

However, the lack of transparency surrounding many parts of the deal is the biggest indicator that the deal involved some form of corruption, including siphoning away funds for the NPC to use in the upcoming elections. For example, neither Muizzu nor the government provided any information regarding the number of Bayraktars the Maldives purchased under the contract. Another example is that both the president and the government will not provide details regarding the number of TB2s and equipment Turkey donated.

Joaquin Camarena
Joaquin Camarena
Joaquin the panda began Sino Talk in 2022 primarily to give an objective, unbiased view on China related topics as well as other issues related to the Indo-Pacific region. He spent several years studying and traveling throughout China and many countries in the Indo-Pacific region. In another life, the panda was also a U.S. Marine intelligence analyst who enjoyed bamboo MREs and drinking bourbon and soju. Indo-Pacific Division Desk Chief for Atlas News.

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