ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey on Friday unveiled its first drone airplane, a surveillance craft able to fly for 24-hour stretches over the rugged mountains where Kurdish rebels are waging a deadly insurgency.
Turkey's eagerness to produce its own military technology mirrors its increasingly robust and independent diplomacy in the region. And producing its own drone fleet would allow Turkey to sever an important link with Israel, which has provided Turkey with drones even amid rising tensions over Israeli policy toward the Gaza Strip.
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While the success of the Turkish-made drone is far from assured, Turkish engineers said they were confident it would become part of the country's arsenal. Ozcan Ertem, head of the project, said an armed version of the Anka, or Phoenix, was possible but not in the works for now.
Ertem said four or five countries, including Pakistan, which has also sought drones from the US, are expected to place orders for the Anka once the Turkish Air Force issues an order probably later this year. The first system, comprising three planes and remote-control units, was expected to be delivered to the Turkish Air Force in 2013.
The drone, with a 56-foot wingspan and an ability to fly for 24 hours at a speed of 75 knots per hour and height of 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) is expected to spy mostly on Kurdish rebels who have recently increased infiltration into Turkey from bases in northern Iraq and escalated attacks on Turkish targets in a war for autonomy in the Kurdish-dominated southeast that has killed as many as 40,000 people since 1984.
Turkey has purchased 10 massive Heron drones from Israel and their delivery was expected to be completed in August.
Turkey had also bought or leased other drones from Israel, Ertem said, and the United States separately provides intelligence from Predator drones on the Kurdish rebels.
Remzi Barlas, head of the engineering group at Turkish Aerospace Space
Industries Inc, said Anka was as capable as the Israeli Heron and even
features a better anti-icing system that works for the entire 24
hour-flight. Its diesel Centurion engine by German-based company
Thielert Aircraft Enginges GmbH works with jet fuel that is easier to
find in remote Turkish bases in the southeast, he said. A high-octane
fuel is used for the Heron.
The Turkish defense industry is "not yet world-class, but certainly
growing. However, it is still dependent on foreign builders and likely
will stay that way for a while," said Peter Singer, director of the 21st
Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution.