The Turkish army sent a letter to the Undersecretariat for the Defense Industry (SSM), Turkey's military procurement agency, on Dec. 4, requesting it initiate the purchase of at least one US Predator UAV under the Foreign Military Sales conditions, said well-informed Turkish defense industry sources close to the project.
The Turkish army, said to be uneasy because the SSM was dragging its feet to initiate the purchase of a US Predator, made its request to the procurement agency amid speculation that the Turkish government has shown an interest in buying at least one Israeli made Harpy 2 loitering weapon following Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül's visit to Tel Aviv in late October.
Turkish Land Forces Commander Gen. Işık Koşaner acknowledged at a news conference on Oct. 27 that Turkey plans to buy a US-made UAV, noting that the Turkish military has one Predator UAV at its disposal and has been gathering intelligence on the activities of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), mostly in northern Iraq.
If purchased, the US has pledged to supply Turkey with the system within 18 months.
The Turkish army's letter to the SSM was also intended to shorten the process of purchasing the US Predator, said a Turkish defense industry source.
Purchase under the Foreign Military Sales conditions will be costly but will shorten the delivery period, said the same source.
The SSM has long been seeking foreign companies to agree on offset terms in arms projects, even if they involve direct purchase, with the aim of strengthening the domestic defense industry infrastructure through workshares it can get via defense contracts. But this policy can sometimes cause delays.
In a related development, soon after the arrival of two out of 10 long-awaited Israeli Heron UAVs to Turkey late last month, some Turkish press reported technical problems with the vehicles.
Quoting Anka news agency, Sabah daily reported on Dec. 5 that local Aselsan-made electro-optical payloads (Aselflir 300T), which were mounted on the two Herons, were heavier, thus reducing the altitude of the vehicles from the required 30,000 feet to 24,000 feet.
Decline in altitude of Herons delivered to Turkey will make them prone to the enemy targets while causing a waste of fuel, a shorter range and less endurance in air, and a smaller surveillance area, said the report in Sabah.
Turkish defense industry sources confirmed the Sabah report to Today's Zaman but claimed that the technical problems with the Heron UAVs are not that big, unlike what the daily reported.
Earlier Murad Bayar, undersecretary of the SSM, told Today's Zaman that the engines of the Heron UAVs are being strengthened to carry the heavy Aselflirs so that UAVs can reach an altitude of 30,000 feet.
Israel delivered two of 10 long-delayed Heron UAVs to Turkey on Nov. 29. The vehicles are deployed at the Batman military base in the country's southeast.
Turkey signed a $183 million contract with Israel's IUP consortium (then Israeli Aircraft Industries and Elbit Systems) in 2005 for the delivery of 10 Heron UAVs.
The Herons that Israel are supplying have the capability to gather intelligence, but they are not configured to be fitted with arms.
UAVs play a significant role in gathering intelligence about PKK activities in northern Iraq.