Turkey’s military is incredibly opaque. However, it appears as if open source satellite imagery is allowing us analysts to peel back the shroud of secrecy about Turkey’s use of Israeli made Heron drones. News reports indicate the Turkey conducted the acceptance tests of the UAV in Israel in February 2010. However, there are conflicting reports about their current status.
After the Mavi Marmara incident (31 May 2010), the Jerusalem Post reported:
Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Elbit Systems Ltd. recalled teams of engineers and flight instructors who were teaching the Turkish military how to use the Heron unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) that had been supplied to Turkey as part of a $180 million deal signed in 2004…in response to the withdrawal of the Israeli teams, the Turkish military has implemented “Plan B” and instead of the Heron drones is now using a Turkish-made drone called IHA, which is manufactured by Bykar.
That report does not appear to be accurate.
Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül, for example, indicated on 14 June 2010, “We no longer have any serious projects. Israel recently handed over four Herons.” As of 17 March 2011, the satellite imagery clearly shows that Turkey had received the Heron.
The hangar in the photo, however, appears to have been temporary. India – another Heron user – appears to have built a Heron drone hangar at Tezpur airbase. The Open Source IMINT website published a satellite photo of the hangar and the drone. I compared the hangar in this picture to hangars built at Batman airbase, after the drone first appeared.
The hangar resembles the following two hangars that were built at Batman airbase after the Heron first appears on satellite images. On 17 March 2011, one can clearly see that there is construction on the left side of the concrete pad near the runway at Batman airbase.
On 9 April 2012, the photos show two completed hangars that strongly resemble the Heron hangar pictured above at Tezpur airbase in India.It also appears that at the bottom of the concrete pad, a small building has been built to house the control station.
The two hangars are some 19 meters wide and 22 meters long. A Heron is 8.5 m (27 ft 10 in) long and has a wingspan 16.60 m (54 ft 5 in). If my measurements are correct, it would appear that each hangar can hold two aircraft. 2+2=4, or the number of drones Gönül told the press Turkey received from Israel.