ANKARA — The Turkish Air Force’s road map for launching a space command is expected to encourage space-related procurement in the country.
The command will become fully operational by 2023, the centennial of the Turkish Republic, officials said. As a first step, the Air Force is establishing a Space Group Command, or a de facto “aerospace force” unit that will take on missions such as reconnaissance, early warning, electronic support, satellite command and satellite launching.
“Apparently, the Turks are planning to heavily invest in this ambitious program,” a defense analyst in London said. “This came as no surprise, since Ankara has been busy refining the idea since 2000.”
Air Force officials say the space command road map details the work and related procurements that will enable the service to:
Maintain reconnaissance and observation through imagery intelligence, regardless of weather and geography.
Build communication systems for secure command and control.
Detect ballistic missile threats early.
Provide electronic support for operational and combat purposes.
The Air Force also plans to obtain cruising data, monitoring Turkish and non-Turkish satellite activity and upgrading Turkish satellite programs.
Turkey’s defense procurement agency, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM), organized the country’s first international conference on air and space power March 27-29 in Istanbul. Conference participants, including SSM and military leaders, discussed topics relating to the state of space power today, air and space power for special operations, UAVs, future air warfare, and conceptual changes in air and space power.
“In the years ahead, there will be numerous space and space-related programs and, obviously, new procurement programs in this field,” said a senior SSM official familiar with space programs.
“By 2023, we hope to become one of the major players in space technology and activity,” an Air Force official said.
Top government officials, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have said the republic’s centennial would mark several successful space operations. The state scientific research organization, TUBITAK, said in 2012 that Turkey would send its first spaceship into orbit by 2023.
“We have no means to know how much of the planned Turkish activity and space ambitions will actually take place,” the London-based analyst said. “I think there is a degree of unrealism here. But that does not change the fact that the Turks will plan and heavily invest in their planned activity.”
Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz said Jan. 3 that the government would start negotiations with state-run missile maker Roketsan for the early concept design phase of a new launch system “to ensure that military and civilian satellites can be sent into space.”
Also in January, Turkey’s top procurement decision-maker, the Defense Industry Executive Committee, approved beginning contract talks with Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) for development of a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) spacecraft dubbed Gokturk-3, with support from defense electronics manufacturer Aselsan and TUBITAK.
With a space segment comprising a single satellite equipped with an SAR payload, a fixed main ground terminal and mobile backup ground station, Gokturk-3 is to provide high-resolution radar images from anywhere in the world, regardless of time or weather, according to Defense Ministry requirements.
The pending contract talks are part of Ankara’s broader effort to develop a national space program by the end of the decade, including several civil and military telecommunications satellites and payloads, in addition to dual-use surveillance spacecraft and the new launch system.
The military’s space-based assets are geared more toward intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions.
Gokturk-2, an Earth-observation satellite designed and built by TUBITAK’s space technologies research unit, TUBITAK-UZAY, in cooperation with TAI, was launched into orbit Dec. 18 from Jiuquan, China. With 80 percent of its technology and all of its software developed in Turkey, Gokturk-2 provides daylight imagery of 2.5 meters’ resolution. It is Turkey’s second national satellite following RASAT, which also was developed by TUBITAK-UZAY and launched from Russia in 2011.
The ISR data gathered by Gokturk-2 and an unknown number of Turkish operational and planned UAVs, including the TAI-produced Anka, will be integrated into Turkey’s command-and-control network for data dissemination at strategic and tactical levels.
Turkey plans to launch Gokturk-1 in the next few years. Now under construction under a deal with Italy’s Telespazio and France’s Thales Alenia Space, Gokturk-1 will be a larger and more powerful optical imaging spacecraft — capable of sub-meter resolution — that is similar to France’s Pleiades Earth observation satellites, built by EADS-Astrium.
Plans for Space Agency
Turkey plans to send into orbit 16 military and civilian satellites through 2020. A space industry expert here said Turkey could award up to $2 billion in satellite contracts in the next five years.
The Air Force’s Space Command road map follows the government’s creation in November of a Space Technologies Directorate under the Ministry of Transportation. Officials said this office will become the country’s first national space agency.
There are many space actors in Turkey, but experts hope efforts will be better coordinated with the establishment of a national space agency. The State Planning Organization, the Ministry of Transportation, the communications satellite operator Turksat, TUBITAK and the SSM all are involved in space-related activities.
TUBITAK cooperates with the national space organizations of Russia, Germany, Britain and the Netherlands. Defense companies Aselsan, Roketsan and TAI, as well as three universities, also are involved in space programs.