Spec Ops UAV: Turkey's special operations forces are likely to be equipped with an armed version of the country's indigenously produced Anka unmanned aircraft. (Turkish Aerospace Industries)
ANKARA — Geopolitical realities and a multitude of asymmetrical threats are forcing Turkey to keep its special operations units well-equipped and ready for action, officials and analysts say.
“Special operations may be a near luxury for many countries. But for us [who are] constantly bogged down with regional challenges, it is a concept that must be kept elite at all times,” said one senior military officer with the general command.
Although the official could not comment on the type and quantity of equipment acquired for special operations, he anticipated that “there would be an immodest increase in spending at least in the next few years.”
“Technology in this field is constantly advancing and armies like us often need to catch up with new standards,” he said. “Sometimes we need to buy without prior planning, and urgently.”
A procurement official dealing with such purchases said orders to equip special operations forces could come “any day, for any gear and with short-notice.”
He did not elaborate on the type of equipment that has been or might be acquired. However, a defense analyst here said unmanned aircraft would be increasingly used for special operations.
“Once Turkey broke through [with] its own unmanned aerial vehicles and passed on to serial production, orders will follow for special operations, especially the aircraft’s future, armed version,” the analyst said, referring to the Anka, Turkey’s first indigenously developed unmanned aircraft.
Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), which develops the Anka, is looking to a new engine for the medium-altitude long-endurance aircraft. The drone was to be powered by an engine from Germany’s Thielert, but the bankrupt company was acquired by China’s Avic International and Thielert deliveries have ceased.
Turkish procurement authorities are preparing to sign a contract for 10 Ankas. The police force also plans to buy them.
The Anka (Turkish for “Phoenix”) had passed acceptance tests in January, including an 18-hour flight, an automated landing, data link performance at a distance of 120 miles, and nighttime takeoffs and landings. The Anka has so far amassed more than 150 flight hours.
An armed version of the aircraft, called Anka+, is planned.
Turkey faces three major security challenges that analysts say emphasize the need for robust special operations forces.
Civil protests that erupted in June against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule could reoccur and spread throughout the country ahead of two critical elections in 2014. The government claims the protests and “terror attacks related to these riots” are provoked by enemy countries, especially Syria.
Turkey has been spearheading regional efforts, together with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to overthrow Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad. It also has been actively supporting Syrian rebels fighting Assad’s army. Turkish special ops forces have reportedly been training and assisting the rebels on the Syrian side of the two nations’ shared 510-mile border.
On Sept. 16, two Turkish F-16 fighter jets downed a Syrian military Mi-17 helicopter for allegedly violating Turkish airspace. Last year, Syria downed a Turkish F-4 reconnaissance plane it said had crossed the border.
“The situation in Syria dictates that the Turkish Army, especially its special forces and aerial assets, remain on alert at all times,” a London-based Turkey specialist said.
Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said on Sept. 16 that the Turkish military had put its forces on a higher state of alert and changed the rules for engaging with the Syrian military along the border because of “constant harassment fire from the other side.”
The Syrian civil war has also emboldened radical Islamists along the Turkish border. The fighting in Syrian towns on the Turkish border means the region has become a battleground for myriad armed groups in a scramble to grab territory.
Since the start of the revolt, Assad’s forces have pulled out of Kurdish regions in the north, handing de facto control to the Kurdish insurgents who have been fighting Turkey for autonomy since 1984. A fragile ceasefire was declared in March.
Analysts agree that the principal challenge for the Turkish special ops forces is the potential revival of violence related to the Kurdish insurgency.
“Violence may revive next year as political tensions increase, and apparently the burden of that possibility would be put on the shoulders of special units,” the London-based specialist said.
On Sept. 30, the government revealed a “democratization package” that includes some limited broader cultural rights for the country’s Kurdish minority. The package would allow a Kurdish curriculum to be used at private schools and permit the use of Kurdish letters “x, q and w,” which have not been not allowed in government service, especially in naming Kurdish children. These reforms, however, failed to impress the Kurds. The country’s pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party immediately downplayed the new rights and said the move fell short of Kurdish expectations.