Turkey’s Missile Programs: A Work in Progress

My report for the Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM) about Turkey’s cruise missile, ballistic missile, and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) program was recently published.  Below is an excerpt from the UAV/Cruise Missile section. If you are interested in reading the entire report click here.

Towards a New Military Doctrine: Cruise Missiles and UAVs

For much of its history, the Turkish Republic has been combatting Kurdish insurgents. The fighting generally slows in the winter months and begins to pick up again in the spring and summer. The Turkish military has struggled to continue operations year round, in all weather conditions, and at night. To help overcome these difficulties, the TSK has been investing in military systems designed to increase its ability to monitor PKK camps and to attack targets at any time. As the United States has ramped up its production and reliance on drones, Turkish military planners have followed suit, and have identified UAVs as critical for its fight against the PKK.

Turkey first began studying UAVs in the early 1990s. These early efforts included work on airframe design, software and communication sub-systems, and studies about how best to integrate manned aircraft systems on to unmanned platforms. Turkey’s initial research and design work culminated in the 2004 tender for the production of a medium altitude long endurance (MALE) UAV. The Turkish armed forces mandated that the UAV be outfitted with cameras capable of surveillance in all weather conditions, as well as the capability to fly above 30,000 feet for at least 24 hours. The contract was awarded to Turkish Aersospace Industries (TAI), which has since dubbed the UAV the Anka. While little information has been released about the UAVs development, reports indicate that the Anka has not performed well during testing. The drone has reportedly crashed on multiple occasions, which suggests that it has stability issues. Nevertheless, the TSK claims to use the Anka for a limited number of sorties in the southeast and Northern Iraq. TAI has announced plans to build an armed variant and hopes to export the Anka in the near future. Turkey has also sought to purchase a number of different UAVs from foreign suppliers in Israel and the United States. Turkey first imported the General Atomics made Gnat in 1995. The UAV was designed in the late 1980s and was employed by the United States for surveillance during the 1990s. The drone was eventually replaced by the Predator, but was relied upon for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) work by both the Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. Military. Turkey has imported 22 Gnats and is estimated to still use a limited number for missions in the southeast.

Turkey also purchased the Israeli made Aerostar, Heron, and Searcher UAVs. The TSK has since relied almost exclusively on the Heron to monitor PKK targets in the southeast and on the border with Iraq, Syria, and Iran. The Heron is a medium altitude long endurance UAV system capable of flying between 10,000 and 30,000 feet for up to 52 hours. Ankara first concluded the deal for the supply of the drone in 2005, but the delivery was delayed until 2010. The delay in delivery was reportedly due to problems integrating Turkish made components on the Israeli made airframe. More specifically, the “Aselsan’s Aselfir 300T turret of electro-optical cameras, infrared, and laser rangefinder/trackers weighs 93 kg/ 205 pounds, which is significantly more than the 145-155 pound IAI MOSP turrets used by the Israelis, or the similar 155 pound AAS-52 system carried by the Predator.” The added weight reportedly limited the Heron’s ceiling and endurance, which brought it below the thresholds called for in the original Turkish tender. The Israeli consortium tried to compensate for the added weight by increasing the power of the engines, but the delivery was still delayed. To help meet the TSK’s immediate needs, Turkey leased three Aerostar UAVs in 2007. The drones were delivered in 2008 and were used as a stopgap until the Heron’s were eventually delivered in 2010. Israel also sent teams of technicians and operators to Turkey to train TSK staff, but they were sent back in June 2010, following the killing of 9 Turkish citizens on board the Mavi Marmara.

Turkey has also made it a priority to purchase the U.S. made Predator drone. Ankara is reported to have requested “four General Atomics MQ-1 Predator drones and six MQ-9 Predators, some which would have armed capability.” President Barack Obama is reported to support the Turkish request, but has told Turkish officials that the U.S. Congress is unlikely to give its consent to any deal involving armed drones because of Turkey’s troubled relationship with Israel. Moreover, Turkey would also have to contend with the United States’ complex export control laws, which place numerous restrictions on the sale and export of dual-use items like UAVs. While there are signs that the U.S. is working to streamline these laws, the legislation appears aimed at relaxing restrictions on the export of unarmed drones.

Nevertheless, Ankara continues to press the United States to sell it the armed version of the Predator. Turkey’s efforts, however, are not likely to succeed. Ankara will therefore have to continue to try and develop its owned armed version of the Anka. The United States, however, has agreed to provide Turkey with four unarmed Predators. The drones are stationed at Incirlik air force base and operated by pilots from the private U.S. contractor Battlespace Flight Services. The drones are used to monitor PKK activity in the southeast and Northern Iraq and have been used to help identify targets for air strikes. The drones remain under control of the United States, even though they are deployed in Turkey and are being used for Turkish military missions.

In tandem with its efforts to develop and procure UAVs, Turkey has also invested in a cruise missile program. Turkey first purchased the U.S. made Harpoon anti-ship cruise missile in 1986. The missile has a range of greater than 60 nautical miles and is primarily used for coastal defense against surface ships. The TSK also purchased 25 MM-38 Exocet anti-ship cruise missiles from France in 2000. The missile has a range of 40 km and its engine is reported to be the basis for Turkey’s indigenous turbojet engine program.

Despite Turkish interest in procuring missiles from abroad, Ankara’s poor human rights record and its technology transfer demands has limited Turkish military imports. In the late 1990s, Turkey increasingly turned to Israel for many of its more advanced military arms. In 1997, Turkey’s Roketsan and Israel’s Rafael signed an agreement to co-produce the Popeye-II cruise missile. The air-launched cruise missile has a range of 150 km. While little is known about the co-production program, Turkey did purchase 46 AGM-142A/Popeye-1 cruise missiles in 1998.8 The 80 km range missiles were delivered in 2002 and have been deployed on Turkish F-4s. Turkey also purchased 108 Israeli made Harpy UAVs in 1999 for $76 million dollars. The unmanned system is designed to attack and destroy air defenses by loitering over a pre-programmed target and searching for enemy radar emissions. Once the target is identified, the Harpy enters attack mode and dives toward the target. The UAV’s warhead is designed to explode just meters above the target to maximize the blast radius and ensure the destruction of the radar’s antenna.

To help meet its self-imposed goal of becoming less dependent on foreign suppliers for military equipment, the Turkish government has set aside research and development funds for the development of an indigenous cruise missile. TÜBİTAK Sage, Defense Research and Development Institute of Turkey, signed an $80 million dollar contract for the development of the modular standoff missile (SOM). The program began in 2006 and the first flight test was conducted over the Black Sea in 2010. The missile was fired from a F-4 in 2011 and is reported to have flown 185 km and hit its pre-programmed target. SOM is powered by the French built Microturbo TR-40 turbojet engine. In 2011, Turkey awarded a contract to Kale Aero for the local production of a replacement turbojet engine. The engine is expected to combine the best attributes of the TR-40 with systems thought to be similar to the Teledyne CAE J402 series used to power the U.S. Harpoon.13 Turkey has indicated that it intends to extend the SOM’s range up to 1,500 km.

If interested in the rest of the report, click here

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About aaronstein1

I am an Istanbul based PhD Candidate a King's College London.
This entry was posted in Cruise Missile, F-35, Harpoon, Israel - Turkey Relations, SOM, Turkey. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Turkey’s Missile Programs: A Work in Progress

  1. Would it be fair to say that a side-effect of the raid on the Mavi Marmara was to introduce a lack of focus into Turkey’s weapons acquisitions plans from which they have yet to recover?

    • aaronstein1 says:

      They are intent on technology transfer and construction off sets for all of their arms purchases. This policy predates the Mavi Marmara and has continued. Israel was valuable because it was more amenable to Turkey’s demands. Moreover, Tel Aviv did not ask questions about human rights like the EU and US. Turkey still has a focused policy, though they now have one less option for weapons purchases. However, it must be remembered that the Israeli defense attaché is still in Ankara and they talk more than they let on. As for weapons purchases, they have a good relationship with South Korea and Western firms.

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