Predators complete test flight as Turkey produces more UAVs

November 23, 2011, Wednesday/ 17:38:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

US-deployed Predator drones at İncirlik Air Base in southern Turkey, which will be used as part of Turkey’s fight against the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), completed their first test flights on Tuesday, at a time when Turkey is increasing its domestic production of homemade drones.

Two of the four Predators drones deployed on Nov. 14 at İncirlik Air base made their first test flights in Adana. The lift-off operation was carried out by the American staff of the Ground Control Unit at the base. The Predators were controlled by a center based in Nevada in the US during the whole flight. Images of the flight will be delivered to US military quarters in Ankara after initially being sent to the US.

12 new UAVs to be used in the fight against PKK terrorism

The UAVs are important in Turkey’s intensified fight against the PKK, which has stepped up its terrorist attacks against Turkish security forces, civilians and businesses in southeastern Turkey over the past six months. Turkey took an important step in its counterterrorism efforts with the intensification of the use of drones, including starting to manufacture drones domestically; 168 drones produced domestically are used by the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) for surveillance activities.

The Turkish Kale Kalıp-Baykar joint venture, which won a contract to produce 12 UAVs from the Undersecretariat for the Defense Industry (SSM), has already completed production of the first drone.  The TSK will start to employ this first UAV next week.

The vehicle, called Çaldıran, has capacities superior to other domestically manufactured UAVs currently in use by the TSK. Çaldıran has a firing range of 1,200 kilometers, can fly at an altitude of 22,000 feet, can stay in the air for 12 hours, has a nine-foot wingspan and has thermal cameras with advanced viewing capacity for night and day. The 11 remaining intelligence gathering vehicles will be delivered to the TSK in the next two years. The total cost of the contract is $24 million, TSK sources told Zaman.

Other UAVs previously produced by the same industrial group, which have a firing range of 15 kilometers and flying speed of 55 knots-per-hour, collect intelligence in southeastern Turkey at the moment.

Another domestic UAV, developed by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), the Anka, will be used in operations against the PKK to locate terrorists and be ready to use in early 2012. With a 56-foot wingspan, the ability to fly at a speed of 75 knots-per-hour and capable of reaching an altitude of 30,000 feet (9,144 meters), the drone is expected to spy mostly on PKK militants who enter Turkey from bases in northern Iraq. The Anka is expected to replace Israeli-made Heron UAVs.

Israel sends technical staff for renovation of Heron UAVs

In a related development, Israel recently sent technical staff for the renovation of Heron unmanned air vehicles (UAV), which were sent by Israel last year, as a step to ease strained Israeli-Turkish relations since the Mavi Marmara crisis, which occurred after Israel refuse to apologize after its 2010 raid on the Turkish-owned aid ship in international waters, which resulted in the deaths of eight Turks and a Turkish-American.

Turkey purchased 10 Herons from Israel in a 2004 tender at a cost of about $183 million. Turkey has been using Israeli-made Heron drones in its fight against the PKK. However, the Herons received were not able to reach the altitudes indicated in the contract, and five of the Herons had engine-related problems. These five and at least two others that had other problems were sent to Israel for repair. However, there were significant delays in their return. In September, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan publicly complained about these delays. This, intelligence sources say, worked to speed up the delivery process, as Israel has recently returned all of the Herons. Israeli technical personnel in charge of renovating the craft left Turkey due to security reasons, following the diplomatic crisis between Turkey and Israel in September.

A technical team sent by Israel is now in Batman province of southeastern Turkey where Israeli-made Herons were deployed.

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