ANKARA-- Turkey’s procurement office, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM), is preparing to open bidding for the acquisition of cable-guided balloons – also called mini-zeppelins – for reconnaissance, surveillance, target tracking, communications relay and intelligence functions.

Officials familiar with the program said that the planned balloons, expected to be operated mainly in the insurgency-hit southeast region, should be functioning at an altitude of 4 to 10 kilometers.

They said the bidding would be for local contenders only. But, one official said, local bidders would be allowed to obtain technology transfer and know-how from foreign manufacturers.

The balloons are expected to function like 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 multimission sensors to provide long endurance intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and communications, and was in support of coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Turkey’s military-electronics specialist Aselsan, Turkey’s largest defense company, has been developing two different types of balloons.

Aselsan, a potential bidder, is hoping to develop the "Water Drop" and the "Global" to detect terrorist activity and illegal crossings along Turkey’s borders with Syria and Iraq.

Aselsan's planned balloons would fly at maximum altitudes of 1,000 and 500 meters, respectively. Both versions will have protection against weathering and light weapons. They will provide military bases and outposts with data gathered from 360-degree surveillance and reconnaissance activity.

The program comes as part of a broader border security concept Turkish officials have been devising since early 2016. It targets the Islamic fighters operating mostly from Syrian territory and Kurdish militants operating both from northern Iraq and Syria.

Along with the balloons, Turkey also wants to beef up its border security with a counter-mortar radar system known as "Serhat," as well as the "Korkut," a self-propelled air defense gun system. Both systems were developed by state-controlled Aselsan.

Military officials think the surveillance balloons could provide quicker input into a ground station than a satellite relay. They say they need a system like the PTDS that would give the military 24/7 border monitoring.

Burak Ege Bekdil is a Turkey correspondent for Defense News. He has written for Hurriyet Daily News, and worked as Ankara bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswires and CNBC-e television. He is also a fellow at the Middle East Forum and regularly writes for the Middle East Quarterly and Gatestone Institute.

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