ANKARA — The Turkish military will install and test capabilities of locally-developed air-defense systems around a southern province that has become the target of rocket attacks from neighboring Syria.
Security officials said that the new systems will be deployed at the Elbeyli border crossing in the province of Kilis in southern Turkey. Rockets thought to be originating from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) strongholds across the border have killed 21 people and injured more than 80 this year.
Turkey has so far responded with artillery fire, claiming that it has killed hundreds of ISIL fighters.
"We need better protection in that part of the border," said one military official. "Air defense is more a priority than deterrence or offensive capabilities."
One system to be deployed is the counter-mortar radar system, "Serhat," developed by the military-electronics specialist Aselsan, Turkey's biggest defense company. The will work in conjunction with "Korkut," a self-propelled air-defense gun system, also developed by Aselsan.
"These efforts will boost and upgrade border security in that area," the military official said.
The Korkut weapon can fire 1,100 rounds per minute and is expected to destroy rockets some four kilometers away before they hit the ground.
The Serhat radar offers a 360-degree azimuth coverage for the detection and tracking of mortar fire. It is designed to generate input for units under asymmetrical attack. Its modular design allows for use on a tripod, on a tower or building, or on a vehicle-mounted mast.
In addition, two batteries of Aselsan's High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) will be installed in the Kilis area to operate with scores of drones, according to security officials.
Meanwhile, Turkey also is trying to seal off a strip, stretching 70 kilometers, of the part of its 900-kilometer border with Syria. This is the part that Ankara feels most vulnerable against attacks from across the border. New defenses include a wall covering the border strip between the provinces of Kilis, Gaziantep, Hatay, Sanliurfa and Mardin. Seventy percent of the work for the five-meter-high wall, including a meter of razor wire, has been completed, officials say.
Attacks from Syria also have prompted the Turkish authorities to rethink a solution that is not totally unfamiliar to them: surveillance balloons – also called mini zeppelins.
These surveillance assets can provide quicker input into a ground station than a satellite relay. Turkey considered acquiring an unspecified number of such surveillance assets in the early 2010s to use them against Kurdish insurgents, but the now defunct peace talks stalled the program.
Ankara is reconsidering mini zeppelins for better border security against both Kurdish militants and ISIL in Syria. "The system in question should operate like the PTDS," said one procurement official. He was referring to Lockheed Martin's Persistent Threat Detection System, a tethered aerostat-based system in use by the U.S. Army since 2004. The PTDS is equipped with multi-mission sensors to provide long-endurance intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and communications, and was used in support of coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The procurement official said that Aselsan would work on a similar system but the company could cooperate with foreign suppliers offering similar products.
"We need a system like the PTDS that will give us 24/7 border monitoring. Aselsan is capable of partly or entirely providing a solution. It may need to get some foreign know-how," the official said.
"We may or may not decide to partner with a foreign technology supplier, and there are not too many in this field, but we will be the prime contractor in this program," said one Aselsan official.
Burak Ege Bekdil is the Turkey correspondent for Defense News.