Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Turkey's UAV Related Efforts have Suffered From Setbacks

Turkey is adding great importance to the development and use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, for military purposes, but some of its related efforts in recent years have been facing setbacks, risking the country's planned capabilities for these aircrafts.Such pilotless aircrafts are cost-effective and extremely useful. Militaries operating them do not put the lives of their personnel at risk. Such aircrafts are mainly used for reconnaissance, surveillance and intelligence purposes, and in some cases as offensive weapons. In Turkey, these systems are planned to be employed in the fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, terrorists.

Present problems faced by the Turkish military programs is the lack of medium-altitude, long-endurance, or MALE, drones, which usually operate at an altitude of up to 10,000 meters and at a range of more than 200 kilometers for 24 hours.In one of the most disappointing deals, Israel has been unable to deliver MALE drones, which should have been received by the Turkish Armed Forces more than two years ago.

In 2005, two Israeli companies, Israel Aerospace Industries, or IAI, and Elbit, won the $190 million contract for the aircraft order against U.S. rivals General Atomics for the production and delivery of 10 Heron systems.The program faced difficulties from the beginning, causing delays due to technical difficulties challenges and the failure to pass performance tests.

Paying a penalty

Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül warned in late November that unless IAI-Elbit delivered the Heron systems successfully within 50 days, the contract would be at risk of being canceled. That deadline expires in early January.Last week, Muharrem Dörtkaşlı, the director-general of Turkish Aerospace Industries, or TAI, Turkey's aerospace powerhouse, said that Turkey and Israel had recently reached an accord to keep the program in place, but that the contractors, including the two Israeli companies, would have to pay a penalty.

One defense source said the Israeli counterparts would pay between $10 and $15 million. It was also unclear how the revised systems would operate in upcoming performance tests.In another hitch with Israel, Turkey had to return three smaller Aerostar tactical UAVs due to their poor performance.The Turkish military acquired the three Aerostars in 2008 as a stopgap solution until the delivery of the Herons was completed. The systems were returned due to their high noise levels emitted that ended in scaring off targets.

Deal efforts with the US

Early this year, Turkey requested from the United States the sale of MQ-9 Reaper armed drones, which would also be used in the fight against the PKK. The U.S. military uses these armed pilotless aircrafts in attacks against Taliban targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan.The U.S. government has not responded to the Turkish request yet. But as the U.S. moves to reinforce troops in Afghanistan, increasing the need for the Reaper, some analysts suggest that the U.S. government might find it difficult accepting the Turkish request immediately.

Some of Turkey’s local UAV programs also are not progressing as scheduled. In one case, a program launched with TAI for the design, development and production of the country’s first MALE UAV has been facing major problems and delays.The TAI contract was signed in 2004 but so far not even a successful prototype flight has been recorded. Dörtkaşlı said last week that a first flight test is now planned for the first half of 2010, but again the system's performance level cannot be predicted at this point.

In another MALE UAV effort, Turkey wants to join the European defense giant EADS’s Advanced UAV program. EADS was formed by a merger of Germany’s DASA, France’s Matra-Aerospatiale and Spain’s Construcciones Aeronauticas SA in the year 2000.One key problem for Turkey is that the advanced UAV program already has started and passed the risk reduction study phase. So even if Turkey is accepted to join the European partnership it may not have a large say on the key characteristics of the drones. Still, analysts see Turkey’s participation in the EADS program as probable.The Turkish procurement and military are working on how to devise ways to eliminate the effects of the faltering UAV programs.


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