A new program for the co-production of unmanned helicopters worth hundreds of millions of dollars has been launched by military and procurement authorities to boost Turkey’s naval intelligence capabilities, a procurement official said on the weekend.
The Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM), Turkey’s procurement agency, will formally start the program soon. Requests for proposal will likely be released before the end of the year, the official said on condition of anonymity. “The competition will be open to foreign bidders, but they will have to agree to work with a Turkish prime contractor,” the official said.
The local prime contractor will most likely be Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) based near Ankara, industry sources said. Last December TAI successfully performed test flights for the Sivrisinek (Mosquito), its first small unmanned helicopter prototype, which is equipped with the Cirit (Javelin), a rocket developed by Turkish missile maker Roketsan.
The co-production program will involve an initial batch of up to 30 unmanned helicopters, all to be acquired by the Navy. Initial specification for the planned unmanned platform is a range of 180 kilometers and a flight time of up to 10 hours, procurement officials said. In its first test flight, the Sivrisinek was airborne for 90 minutes. According to planned contract specifications, the unmanned helicopters must perform vertical take-off and landing since they will be operated from naval platforms. The unmanned helicopters will initially be deployed on a landing platform dock (LPD) Turkey plans to acquire, but in later stages of the program, they will operate using Turkish corvettes and frigates as bases.
UAVs either self-directed or remote controlled
An unmanned or pilotless aircraft (UAV) can function either by remote control by a navigator or pilot, or autonomously as a self-directing entity. In the military most types are used for surveillance purposes, while the U.S. General Atomics’ MQ-9 Reaper is an armed version.
Most Army and Air Force drones are pilotless aircraft with large wings as they utilize long runways for take-off and landing. But since naval platforms usually lack runways, UAVs used by the Navy are pilotless helicopters. As there is no risk of loss of personnel, UAVs can be used for risky missions. Turkey’s UAV efforts mainly are related to the country’s fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants. In the 1990s, Turkey utilized 10 platforms bought from the U.S. General Atomics. In recent years, such platforms were obtained from Israel. Turkey presently has in its inventory nine IAI Heron UAVs for anti-terrorism surveillance but plans to buy a small number of MQ-1 Predator drones from the United States. Meanwhile, its own program to produce the Anka drone has faced technical problems.