Turkey seeks to offset the pilotless aircraft setbacks

Despite accidents, the domestic Anka drone will remain key to fighting terrorism. Erdoğan’s remark that Turkey would get Predators from the US comes after Ankara’s decision to host a radar for NATO’s missile shield.

Turkey’s first drone airplane called Anka is seen during a roll out ceremony at the Turkish Aerospace Space Industries, or TAI, near Ankara.

Turkey’s first drone airplane called Anka is seen during a roll out ceremony at the Turkish Aerospace Space Industries, or TAI, near Ankara.

Turkey’s first drone airplane called Anka is seen during a roll out ceremony at the Turkish Aerospace Space Industries, or TAI, near Ankara.

Turkey is striving to bolster its unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, fleet through international means, as domestic work to develop large pilotless aircraft has been faltering.

Turkish Aerospace Industries, or TAI, has been developing the Anka UAV, a medium-altitude, long-endurance, or MALE, aircraft, but the platform has crashed in all of its test flights over the past year. MALE UAVs can fly at an altitude of up to 30,000 feet (9 kilometers), carrying 200 kilograms for more than a day.In late December, the first Anka completed its debut flight with 14 minutes of cruising. In early May it flew for 90 minutes. Last week the aircraft flew even longer. But the authorities have faced landing problems. In all three cases, the vehicles crash-landed, partly destroying the aircraft. One defense analyst suggested that while landing the wind under the aircraft’s vast wings disturbed its balance and, as the landing gears are so close to each other, forced the vehicle to land on one of its wings.

“We will definitely resolve this problem and definitely make the Anka operable,” one procurement official said. “In the future, the Anka definitely will become the most useful asset in fighting terrorism.” The present versions are Tiha-A, a surveillance vehicle, and Tiha-B, an armed version also known as a combat drone. As success has been delayed in the Anka program, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced last week in New York, after a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama on the sidelines of a U.N. gathering, that Washington would provide Turkey with advanced Predator drones. Turkey first asked for both unarmed and armed versions of the Predator nearly three years ago. The MQ-1 Predator is the surveillance version and the MQ-9 Reaper is the armed version. The United States extensively uses the Reaper in attacking al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other terrorist and insurgent groups in Afghanistan. The number of drones to be given to Turkey is not clear, but they will be among the UAVs to be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of this year. One potential problem is that they will be based in Turkey’s southern airbase of İncirlik, and would continue to remain at least partially in U.S. control. The U.S. has sold the Reaper only to Britain for use in Afghanistan. Turkey last year bought 10 Heron IAI drones from Israel for $183 million, but relations with that country are continuing to worsen.

One of the drones crashed, a few of them are back in Israel for structural upgrades and the rest are operational. Some analysts suggest that Turkey would like to replace the Herons in the short term with the Predator as trust is low with Israel. In addition TAI in May signed an agreement with the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company consortium to take part in the group’s planned Talarion UAV. “Among them, our top priority will be the full functioning of our own UAV, the Anka,” the TAI official said.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011
ÜMİT ENGİNSOY
ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News