Turkey steps up reconnaissance operations of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles monitoring suspected Kurdish resistance in Southeastern Turkey and Northeast Iraq

Israel Aircraft Industries has recently delivered Turkey the first two Heron UAVs, part of a package worth $183 million signed between Turkey and Israel in 2005. The aircraft are deployed at the Batman military base in Southeast Turkey. Israel is expected to deliver the remaining 8 Herons in the upcoming months. The package includes 10 IAI Heron UAVs, operated by ground control systems developed by Elbit Systems.

Another Heron delivered to Turkey earlier this year was crashed in July 2008 while on a mission over Southeastern Turkey. Israel provided turkey with a surplus Searcher type UAV to augment its operations, but this UAV has also been lost. Turkey has also leased UAV services of three Aerostar tactical UAVs built by Aeronautics defense Systems, to augment its reconnaissance activities monitoring PKK activities in Southeastern Turkey and Kurdistan.

However, the new Herons have also encountered some difficulties. Part of the mission payload, comprising the Turkish manufactured Aselflir 300T Electro-Optical payload built by Aselsan was found to be significantly overweight, thus reducing operational ceiling, and endurance. While Heron is capable of carrying payloads up to 240 kg weight, the aircraft typically carries multiple sensors, including EO, SAR and COMINT systems. Therefore, Turkey might have to remove some of the mission modules, to compensating for the EO overweight. limit the usability of the Heron which has a total payload capacity of 240 kg. Turkish officials confirmed the overweight issue but considered the aircraft is being strengthened and engine uprated to compensate for the weight increase.

According to the Turkish daily newspaper Today’s Zaman, Turkish Land Forces Commander Gen. Isik Kosaner acknowledged at a press conference on Oct. 27 that Turkey plans to buy a US-made UAV, noting that one Predator UAV is currently at the disposal of the Turkish military and has been gathering intelligence on the activities of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), mostly in northern Iraq. General Atomics withdrew from a previous program in Turkey due to the Turkish demand to integrate a locally developed payload considered by the American manufacturer to be incompatible with their platform.

Turkey is also interested in acquiring a Lethal Unmanned Aerial System capability. The Turkish Army was interested in acquiring the US made General Atomics Predator, (of which it already has one aircraft, operating over Northern Iraq covering suspected PKK strongholds in Iraq). However, in recent months the Ministry of Defense is favoring an expansion of an existing capability, based on the Harpy radar killer drone supplied by Israel several years ago. Turkey has been interested in acquiring the general purpose, loitering killer drone version of the system (previously known as Harrop).

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