Turkish Military in Need of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 241

Turkey’s efforts since 2005 to purchase 10 Heron Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) from Israel finally produced a result with the delivery of the first two Herons to Turkey in the first week of December; but because Turkey insists on mounting ASELSAN-made electro-optical payloads (ASELFLIR 300T), the vehicle failed to fulfill its expected performance.

In recent years the Turkish military has insisted on using Turkish-produced defense software systems to maintain its independence from the dominant American software programs. To use its national defense products, Turkish authorities even considered bypassing the NATO standards. Before UAVs were opened for competitive bidding, it was learned that Heron UAVs do not have the standard NATO technical program, STANAG, which transmits data to the command centers and makes it available to other NATO members. In order to accommodate the Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) and Elbit, another Israeli company that joined the bidding competition, the terms and conditions for the contract were changed. This is the first time that the Turkish military has ever purchased a non-NATO-standard aerial defense vehicle. In order to use non-NATO-standard UAVs, the military asked Microsoft to develop a new system to watch the images transmitted from the Heron UAVs (Hurriyet, December 4).

Turkey’s insistence on using a Turkish-produced monitoring system was one of the main reasons why the delivery of the vehicles has been postponed. When Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul visited Israel on October 29 and 30, the UAVs were given a final test and their performance was pronounced excellent (see EDM, November 3).

When the first two Herons arrived in Turkey, however, it was discovered that they failed meet the technical requirements, with the ASELSAN-made electro-optical payloads (ASELFLIR 300T) not functioning as planned. Reportedly the ASELFIR 300T is twice as heavy as a similar system produced by Israeli companies to mount on Herons. The Israeli monitoring system weighs 60 to 70 kilograms, while the ASELFIR monitoring system weighs 120 kilograms. With this heavy equipment, the Herons could not maintain their 30,000 feet altitude but had to fly at about 24,000 feet, which increased their visibility from the ground and reduced their monitoring area and flying time (ANKA, December 5).

The Turkish press heavily criticized the fact that the aircraft were delivered before the tests had been completed and fully approved. One commentator sarcastically remarked about the purchase

“Strange” things about defense contracts can always happen. And both Israeli companies IAI and Elbit have extremely “talented” local agents in Turkey. So I have every confidence that the Herons will suddenly upgrade themselves while being kept in a hangar. They might soon start to fly at an altitude of 45,000 feet and for 72 hours non-stop. And they will probably pass the acceptance tests (Hurriyet Daily News, December 12).
In the last two weeks, in fact, conflicting reports have appeared in the Turkish press. First it was claimed that because the Herons failed to meet the terms and conditions, the Turkish military declined to accept them (Hurriyet, December 6). Yet a day later, the Turkish military issued a statement saying, “The Turkish General Staff spokesman did not say that the Herons had been rejected; what he said was that ‘acceptance tests are continuing’” (Hurriyet, December 7).

One of the UAVs reportedly crashed during the acceptance tests (Aksam, December 18). The Herons’ performance was even questioned by the editor of Defense and Aerospace Magazine, a publication known for its close ties with the Turkish military, who said that:

One need not be a rocket scientist to figure out the heavier monitoring devices, produced by the Turkish company, will cause the UAVs to lose altitude. Because of the interesting Israeli game, the under-secretariat for the Turkish defense industry had to find a temporary solution or to accept the Herons with these conditions (Aksam, December 18).
As speculation mounts about whether the Heron UAVs would meet the requirements outlined in the contract, it was reported that on December 4, “the Turkish Land Forces Command made its official request to the country’s procurement agency to launch a bid for at least one U.S. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems made Predator UAV” (Today’s Zaman, December 13).

Since General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, made it clear during the bidding for UAVs in 2005 that the heavier ASELFLIR 300T system could not be mounted on the Predator UAVs, it would be interesting to know why the Turkish Land Forces Command has urgently requested at least one Predator.

Turkish diplomatic efforts to find a solution to the problem with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) have been progressing steadily. It appears that the Kurdish leaders in northern Iraq, the central government in Iraq, and the United States have agreed on bringing the PKK out of the mountains. The question, however, is how the PKK will respond to the diplomatic efforts. The Turkish military is apparently aware that the PKK may not want to cooperate with the Turkish diplomats, the Iraqi Kurds, and the United States. Therefore, the PKK might resume its campaign of terror in the spring. The Turkish military might be requesting the Predators, despite their higher cost, for use in combating further threats from the PKK. It remains to be seen whether the military will accept the Heron UAVs at all.