Turkey needs to acquire more and smaller unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to prevent large-scale attacks by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) against Turkish military units near the borders with Iraq and Iran, several defense analysts said yesterday.
“Although there is no formal decision taken at this point, this probably will be the decision to be taken by the Turkish government,” said one procurement official speaking on condition of anonymity.
In the worst attack in the past 18 years, at least two dozen Turkish soldiers were killed and many others were injured when the PKK attacked the military in southeastern Turkey on Oct. 19.
The attack took place near the Çukurca district in an area bordering Iraq and Iran. After the deadly PKK attack, dozens of Turkish F-16 fighter aircraft bombed supposed PKK targets inside Turkey and in northern Iraq in retaliation, media said.
“I am talking about small- or medium-sized unmanned aerial vehicles that should be assigned to specific military units or border posts. These platforms are dirt cheap, but save a lot of lives,” one defense analyst said.
“The United States lost up to 7,000 small UAVs in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past 10 years, but saved a countless number of lives. These small unmanned aircraft let you know about approaching enemies and you take your measures. If, in the meantime, you lose the drones, you deploy new ones,” the analyst said.
“One solution is that you buy hundreds of tactical mini UAVs and equip independent units and garrisons with them. Also using [the military electronic company] Aselsan’s ARS-2000 Army Surveillance Radars and good networking, you can stop such attacks,” the defense analyst said.
The local Bayraktar company has successfully tried its Çaldıran, a tactical UAV, flying at a maximum altitude of 5,486 meters, as well as Mini UAVs and hand-held UAVs, which fly at altitudes between 610 and 1,520 meters and are produced by multiple local sources.
Higher-altitude missions are conducted by larger UAVs, namely the medium-altitude, long-endurance drones, or MALE UAVs. Turkey’s fleet of MALE UAVs used over the country’s southeast presently includes up to nine IAI Herons that were bought from Israel last year. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said last month that the country would acquire the MQ-1 Predator drones the U.S. operates in Iraq.
Domestic efforts by Turkish Aerospace Industries to make the Anka drone have faltered, with the vehicle crash-landing in all three test flights since last year. The Heron, the Predator and the Anka all are medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) platforms operating at a maximum altitude of 9,144 meters for around 24 hours.
“Operating a UAV properly is like finding a needle in a haystack. The operator should be very skillful and lucky, because a UAV is like an eye seeing a specific development at a very specific location. And the network should operate precisely and on time,” said one defense analyst here.
“You need to look at the right place at the right time to find what you’re looking for,” he said.
“The U.S. government employs thousands of people to operate UAVs in Afghanistan. You have hundreds of hours of UAV footage daily received from dozens of vehicles, and probably only two minutes at a specific location has valuable information,” the defense analyst said. “You have to find it out and on time or you’ll miss your chances to act promptly.”
“In the short term we’ll be hiring more people for using the vehicles and analyzing and processing the data. In the longer term we’ll both boost our drones and our capabilities of process and analysis,” the procurement official said. “You need to both improve the size of your UAV fleet and at the same time your analysis assets,” the analyst said.
Since 2007 the U.S. also has been providing electronic intelligence over northern Iraq obtained from Predators to the Turkish military, whose Air Force has bombed the PKK’s headquarters in the Kandil Mountains many times in recent years based on that information.
“We’ve definitely decided to do whatever we can to make a better use of our unmanned capabilities. This is the number-one issue in the fight against the PKK,” said the procurement official.