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Turkey Eyes Self-Sufficient Drone Industry

March 16, 2016 (Photo Credit: Turkish Aerospace Industries)

ANKARA — Turkey’s procurement and industry officials are working vigorously to end their country’s dependence on foreign drone systems and sub-systems, hoping to achieve self-sufficiency in the next few years, a target some analysts question. .

Encouraged by the Ankara government, the local industry — both state-controlled and private companies — recently have intensified efforts to attain a “100 percent Turkish drone fleet by 2017.”

At a high-profile ceremony in February, the Anka Block A — the largest drone that Turkey’s local industry has ever produced — made its debut mission flight.

“The first mission flight was completed with success,” Deputy Defense Minister Suay Alpay told reporters.

The Anka Block A, developed and built by Tusas Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), will operate from an air base in Elazig, eastern Turkey.

One reason why several drone programs have gained prominence in Turkey is their extensive use in the country’s asymmetrical war, now heightened, with militant Kurdish groups inside Turkey as well as in neighboring Iraq and Syria.

“We are now engaged in a critical anti-terror fight … These assets [such as the Anka] built by the local industry will augment our fight,” said Alpay.

After a two-year ceasefire ended in July, renewed violence with the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has killed more than 300 security officials in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast.

The PKK and its affiliates also are blamed for two suicide bomb attacks in Ankara in February and March that killed more than 60 people, mostly civilians. Turkey, the United States and the European Union have designated the PKK as a terrorist organization.

The Anka is a medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) drone that can fly at an altitude of 30,000 feet for 24 hours. It will be used for reconnaissance and surveillance missions. The aircraft can carry up to 200 kilograms (440 pounds) of payload.  

TAI started its work on the Anka in 2004. In 2013, the company won a contract from the Turkish government to supply 10 Ankas and their ground control stations.

In 2014, military and defense officials moved ahead with a plan to add satcom capabilities to the Anka, while also bringing together a task force that would design and develop an indigenous engine for the drone. That drone, the Anka S, will be delivered by 2017.

The Anka is TAI’s first indigenous design in aerospace.

In December, Turkey's local industry successfully tested an armed, tactical unmanned aerial vehicle,  the Bayraktar, which is produced jointly by two Turkish private companies, Baykar and Kale Kalip.

In its first armed flight test, the Bayraktar was equipped with the "mini smart ammunition" system developed by the state-controlled missile maker, Roketsan. Roketsan launched the system at the IDEF 2013 defense exhibition in Istanbul. The mini smart ammunition system has a range of eight kilometers.

Now the local industry is developing BSI-101, a SIGINT system, for the Bayraktar. “That will end our dependence on U.S.-made SIGINT systems [for drones],” one industry official said.

A procurement official said that by 2017 Turkey hopes to have a “100 percent Turkish” drone fleet.

“Considering all the successful efforts for the development of systems and sub-systems this is not an unrealistic target,” said the official, who is familiar with drone programs.

He said that Tusas Turkish Engine Industries (TEI), a Turkish partner of the U.S. company General Electric, would soon deliver the first drone engine it developed. “That will be a crucial moment for Turkey’s drone industry,” he said.

TEI reported $294 million sales in 2015. Of that $256 million came from exports.

In efforts to further “nationalize” the drone systems efforts, Turkey’s procurement agency, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM) in January announced that it would launch competition for the local development of fuel batteries for mini, tactical and MALE drones.

But experts say the “100 percent Turkish drone” target for 2017 is a little bit unrealistic.

“We have no credible evidence if all of these drone systems and their sub-systems could be successfully developed and manufactured in such short time, or whether some of these efforts will face serious technological hurdles,” said one Turkey-based drone expert. “A bigger question is if the Turkish industry will be able to successfully integrate all of these complex systems at just one trial.”

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