Turkey’s largest defense company is beginning to flight-test the country’s first indigenous advanced targeting and reconnaissance pod.
The tests mark the end of the initial phase of an ambitious program by military electronics specialist Aselsan. It is not publicly known how long Aselsan has been working on the once-classified project, but the company says it has so far spent $50 million to design and develop the Aselpod.
Built to track up to four targets simultaneously in infrared (IR) and day video, the pod contains a zoomable, third-generation IR camera with a 640×512 mid-wave detector and three fields of view. Both IR and video cameras can automatically track objects on the ground and in the air, and inertial trackers help keep the cameras on target even when the line of sight is momentarily obscured.
For stability, the cameras pivot on a four-axis gimbal in the sensor head. Solid-state recorders bring the information back home for debriefing. A laser pointer enables the pod to designate targets for other weapons, and a laser spot tracker allows the pod to lock onto targets illuminated by others.
Military and company officials declined to discuss further details about the pod and its development.
The tests are proceeding at an air base in Eskisehir, 220 kilometers northwest of here. The Turkish Air Force plans to install the first Aselpod to an F-4E 2020 before the end of 2011.
The second phase of the program calls for the production of 16 pods, to be installed on F-16 Block 50 fighter jets.
Procurement officials said the Aselpod, when fully operational, will replace the U.S. made LANTIRN, a combined navigation and targeting pod system for use on the U.S. Air Force’s premier fighter aircraft – the F-15E Strike Eagle and F-16 Block 40/42 C and D models.
Last year, Lockheed Martin signed a foreign military sales contract to deliver Sniper Advanced Targeting Pods (ATPs) and LANTIRN Enhanced Resolution (ER) navigation pods to the Turkish Air Force. Valued at $118 million, the contract will provide Sniper ATP and LANTIRN ER navigation pods to equip Turkish Air Force F-16 Block 40 and Block 50 Peace Onyx aircraft.
A Turkish defense official said the military hopes the Aselpod eventually will replace the LANTIRN.
“The program reflects a strategic choice to end our dependency on foreign [U.S.] systems for targeting equipment,” he said.
But analysts were dubious about official claims about the Aselpod.
An Ankara-based defense analyst said that although Aselsan has invested much time and resources into the Aselpod program, the end result may fall short of the Turkish ambitions.
“No doubt, the Turkish system will work this way or another, within this time frame or another,” he said. “But how much the Aselpod may deviate from the existing technology and costings is yet to be seen.”
A London-based Turkey specialist said the Aselpod may be another example of Turkish ambition to go local.
“Indigenous programs often make the Turks proud. But success in terms of desired capabilities and costs is something else,” he said.
In recent years, Turkey’s procurement planners have strongly encouraged local design, development and production of systems including UAVs, armored vehicles, helicopters, trainer aircraft, naval platforms and several defense electronic, avionic and software systems.
Aselsan is a public company owned by the Turkish Armed Forces Support Foundation. Turkey’s top five defense companies are all owned by the same foundation.
Aselsan reported $792 million in sales in 2010. It aims at $850 million this year and $1 billion in 2013. The company exports products to 37 countries.
Ankara – DefenseNews