Murphy's Law: Turks Seek Killer Drones

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December 10,2008: Two years after they were ordered, Turkey has received the first two Israeli Heron UAVs. The remaining eight aircraft will arrive next year. For the last five years, the Turkish Army has been trying to buy UAVs. These efforts were delayed because of interference, or inactivity by the Defense Ministry procurement bureaucrats. Apparently, not enough bribes have been going to the right people, because Turkish defense procurement is not always this sluggish.

Consider the what happened when the Turks sought to buy an American Predator UAV, to fill in for the delayed Herons. The manufacturer told the Turks that, normally, it would take seven years to get one (there is a backlog). Then the U.S. government intervened and made it possible for the Turks to get a Predator in 18 months. The Turkish generals told the Defense Ministry and nothing happened. Based on past experience, the forecast is for more nothing, following by still more nothing.

The $190 million worth of Israeli Heron UAVs were delayed because the Defense Ministry insisted that Turkish firms supply some of the components, like the cameras. The UAV purchase order was officially signed in 2005, and delivery was scheduled for October 2007. But the Turkish camera suppliers had some problems integrating their equipment with the UAV, delaying service until now.

The big problem is that the Turks are fighting Kurdish separatists in eastern Turkey and northern Iraq at the moment, and really need those UAVs. So the Israeli manufacturer made an interim deal to supply wholly Israeli Herons, along with support personnel, on a $10 million lease. Because this is a wartime situation, this deal was pushed through rapidly.

The U.S. has helped out in a similar fashion, providing one of their Predators for the Turks. American operators run this UAV, but Turkish officers are basically directing where the UAV will go and what it will watch. This deal has been criticized because apparently the American UAV has also been used to seek out PKK gunmen just across the border in Turkey. As the two new Herons enter service, the American Predator will remain in service, because the Turks still want at least one UAV that can carry missiles (a Predator can carry and fire two 107 pound Hellfire missiles.) The U.S. offer of a Predator, to be delivered in 18 months, still stands. But Israel is also offering a UAV (the 4.6 ton Heron 2, that can carry up to a ton of sensors and weapons.) It will probably come down to who can guarantee delivery earlier.

 


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