Apologies for my prolonged absence. I was in Los Angeles for the past two weeks, where I was busily analyzing LA’s food truck scene and re-acquanting myself with my favorite Mexican restaurants. I have concluded that Istanbul needs to import food trucks and needs more immigrants from Latin America to enrich the local food scene. Having landed in Istanbul two days ago, I am eager to get back to work and continue writing regular posts.
2013 – as has been noted by most Turkey watchers – is full of intrigue. The constitution reform process is a mess, Erdogan is campaigning for a yet to be created presidency, and rumors about whether or not Abdullah Gul will challenge Erdogan for the yet to be created post are rampant. The economy – by most accounts – is fragile and appears to be slowing down. The war in Syria remains a problem for Turkey and no one – and I mean no one – in Ankara (or elsewhere for that matter) has laid out serious plan for dealing with the likely chaos in a post-Assad world. Quiet intel-to-intel talks with Israel continue (even if Erdogan does not acknowledge them directly) and there appears to be some movement on the negotiations with the PKK. 2013 will certainly be interesting.
I want to focus on Turkey’s drone and missiles programs and make some predictions for upcoming year:
1) Ankara will once again go public with its frustration about the US refusal to export to Turkey armed drones. The United States, due to export control laws, will not export armed drones to Turkey. Turkish politicians and columnists will point to the US decision to arm Italian and British predators as evidence of double standards and make a fuss about the United States’ commitment to aid in Turkey’s fight against the PKK. The issues, however, are different and thus subject to different export control laws. The fact remains that the US has refused to export armed drones to all of its allies and has designated the Italian and British armed drones for use in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the narrative about the US not being committed to Ankara’s “war on terror” will continue to be “political gold” for all of Turkey’s political parties. In the end, Ankara wont get its drones and will remain reliant on the current fleet of US owned and operated drones stationed in Turkey.
2) Turkey will continue to rely on the Israeli made Heron for its drone derived intelligence. Despite having recently launched the Gokturk satellite, Ankara will remain beholden to its current fleet of 9 Heron UAVs for its operations against the PKK. Ankara’s troubled relationship with Israel will continue to hinder Turkey’s military operations.
3) The ANKA will continue to be tested and used sporadically, but will not be a game changer. Turkey’s indigenous drone program has suffered numerous setbacks since its inception in the early 2000s. Turkey claims that it uses the ANKA on a limited basis in the southeast, though media reports about the tragic strike near Uludere suggest that Ankara is far more reliant on American operated Predators and the Israeli made and supplied Heron for surveillance. Thus, I do not think that the ANKA will make much of a difference this year and any hopes for the quick development of an armed variant will be stymied by engineering difficulties.
4) Ankara will continue to develop both UAVs and cruise missiles and will continue to seek export markets in the Middle East. These developments will face little scrutiny locally, but will have implications for regional nonproliferation efforts. Specifically, the SOM cruise missile appears to have been designed with missile technology control regime restrictions in mind, which suggests that Ankara intends to sell the missile. While Ankara would not violate any international agreement if it did so, cruise missiles and UAVs are better delivery vehicles for chemical and biological weapons than ballistic missiles. Moreover, the developing world has identified cruise missiles as a comparably inexpensive tool to help compensate for weak air forces and missile defense. If Ankara intends to sell the missile in the Middle East, I foresee some mild international controversy.
5) Turkey’s ballistic missile program, which remains murky, will continue to pop-up from time-to-time in the press. Ankara, however, will not release a lot of information about the project and will instead use it as a nationalist symbol for Turkey’s rise. I still suspect that the program is intended to produce a satellite launch vehicle, though it is entirely possible that Ankara is interested in having some sort of ballistic missile to hold longer range targets at risk. The program will not make any discernible progress in 2013 and the TSK will not release any information about the goal of the missile program (sigh).
6) Turkey will not be able to reach an agreement for the sale of long range air and missile defenses. US export control laws will continue to hinder progress on the sale of Patriot missile defense to Turkey. Turkey will continue to review the tender sporadically, but will fail to secure a deal satisfactory for Ankara. Indigenous efforts to produce missile defenses, while unveiled with fanfare, will remain on the drawing board and not make much progress.
7) Information about Uludere and how drones are used against Turkish citizens will not be released. The issue will continue to fester, but the AKP’s quest for a new constitution and Erdogan’s unannounced campaign for the yet to be created presidency will prevent any meaningful movement on the tragedy.
In general, Turkey remains committed to developing and procuring missiles and UAVs. I am watching for development of turbofan engines for drones and how the armed Predator issue will play out. I will re-visit these predictions from time-to-time to see how I did. In general, I am hoping that Turkish and foreign journalists will pay more attention to the implications of Turkey’s quest to export UAVs and cruise missiles. However, I do realize that these stories are not easy to sell.