Following Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s complaint last week that Israel delayed the delivery of Heron drones Turkey sent to the country for maintenance, it was revealed that Turkey has been dealing with Israel on maintenance issues for a long time.
Ankara purchased three unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) called Aerostars from the Israeli company Aeronautics in 2008. Aerostars, which are be able reach an altitude of 18,000 feet (5,486 meters) and travel up to 100 kilometers per hour, are also able to relay images to a command center 200 kilometers away. However, all three Aerostars crashed during operations, which rendered them unusable.
As for Heron drones, Turkey purchased ten Herons from Israel in a 2004 tender costing about $183 million. However, the Herons received were not able to reach the altitudes indicated in the contract. Israel delivered the Herons last year and Turkish army officers started to fly them after Israeli technical personnel left Turkey following the diplomatic crisis between Turkey and Israel.
Sources said that two of the Herons are unusable and the other three have engine problems. Five Herons are currently in Israel undergoing repairs.
As Turkey is experiencing problems with drones purchased from Israel, the country last year unveiled its own UAV, ANKA, a surveillance craft able to fly 24 hours at a time over rugged mountains, where the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is waging a campaign of terror. However, ANKA is not expected to fly until 2012.
While the success of the Turkish-made drone is far from assured, Turkish engineers said they were confident it would become part of the country’s arsenal. Forty-three countries have now developed UAVs, which have proven to be extremely effective in gathering intelligence.
With a 56-foot wingspan and the ability to fly at a speed of 75 knots per hour and an altitude of 30,000 feet (9,144 meters), the drone is expected to spy mostly on PKK militants, who have recently started entering Turkey from bases in northern Iraq more frequently and escalated attacks on Turkish targets.