ANKARA — Turkey’s military plans to return three tactical UAVs to Israel due to the vehicles’ poor performance against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Turkey’s worst enemy.
The UAVs, called Aerostars, are built by Aeronautics, an Israeli company.
“The contract is at a stage of cancellation,” one procurement official said, adding that the UAVs will be returned.
Turkish officials did not specify the performance problems with the UAVs.
Israel became one of Turkey’s top arms suppliers in the mid-1990s. But after the well-publicized delivery of 10 Heron UAVs in 2010, Turkey reduced diplomatic ties with Israel after commandos from the Jewish state killed nine Turks aboard a ship trying to break an embargo on the Palestinian Gaza Strip. Turkey also canceled several drills with Israel’s military.
The Turkish press misreported that the UAVs that were returned to Israel were Herons, which are medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) UAVs.
The production of Herons for Turkey, in fact, was delayed, prompting the country’s government to lease the three Aerostars in 2007 for nearly $10 million.
Aerostars are tactical UAVs, designed to fill the gap between short-range UAVs and MALE UAVs, and are smaller than Herons. Turkey later purchased the three Aerostars outright for $30 million as a stop-gap solution until it received the Herons. All 10 Herons were delivered to Turkey by 2010.
The UAVs are mainly used for reconnaissance, surveillance and intelligence purposes, and in some cases as offensive weapons.
One Heron crash-landed during a mission over southeastern Turkey, where the separatist PKK operates, this year. The aircraft is being repaired and will be used again, officials said. Turkey bought only two ground control devices, and a maximum of two Herons can be operated at any given time.
Aeronautics officials did not comment on the Aerostar issue.
An Israeli diplomat here, Nizar Amir, said he had not heard about the Turkish position. “We have not been informed by Turkish authorities,” he said about the Aerostar problem.
Three years ago, Turkey asked the U.S. to provide two MQ-9 Reaper armed UAVs and four MQ-1 Predator UAVs. But it has received no response, although some U.S. administration officials have said they support a sale.
The U.S. has sold the Reaper only to its closest ally, Britain.
Under an agreement signed in 2007, the U.S. provides electronic information to the Turkish military regarding the actions of the PKK in its hideouts in northern Iraq.
After the U.S. military withdrew from Iraq last year, it moved four Predators tasked with the PKK surveillance job to Turkey’s southern allied air base of Incirlik.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s own efforts to build a MALE UAV are faltering. The UAV is called Anka, and it is being built by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI). One Anka prototype crashed this month, but TAI officials said testing will continue, adding that the UAV has had more than 100 successful flights.