November 24, 2011: Four American Predator UAVs, which had long operated in Iraq, were moved to Turkey last month. There, the American UAVs will be under the control of the Turkish security forces and assist in tracking Kurdish separatist (PKK) rebels. American UAVs based in Iraq had been helping the Turks track the PKK, but with all American forces leaving Iraq in the next few weeks, the Turks were happy to give some of the Iraq-based Predators a new home.
Turkey has six Predator and four Reaper UAVs on order, but there is a big backlog in orders for these aircraft. Meanwhile, Turkey has been using ten Israeli Heron UAVs. This has been complicated because of growing Turkish hostility towards Israel. The latest accusations are that Israel is assisting the PKK, and the Turkish media is having a good time with this sort of thing.
Last year Israeli UAV technicians and instructors were recalled from Turkey, where they were training Turkish troops on how to operate and maintain Israeli Heron UAVs. The Israeli personnel were withdrawn because it was believed they might be attacked. The Turkish government has become increasingly anti-Israel in the last seven years. The Islamic politicians, who were elected in 2002, have adopted an anti-Israel, anti-West attitude, and strive to increase their stature in the Islamic world. Actually, the Turks are trying to regain the stature they used to have in the Islamic world. Until 1924, the Sultan of the Turks was the Caliph (technically, the leader of all Moslems). But in the 1920s, Turkey turned itself into a secular state. Although Turkey became a major economic power in the Middle East, with one of the best educated populations, it was still hobbled by corruption and mismanagement. The current Islamic politicians promised to attack the corruption (which they have) and return religion to a central place in Turkish culture (in progress). This has upset a lot of secular Turks. But the Islamic politicians have made it fashionable to hate Israel.
The Turks ordered ten Herons seven years ago, but delivery was delayed because of problems with the Turkish made sensor package. Meanwhile, the Turks were still fighting Kurdish separatists in northern Iraq, and really need those UAVs. Four years ago, the Israeli manufacturer made an interim deal to supply Israeli (without the Turkish sensors) Herons, along with support personnel, on a $10 million lease. But now those Herons are inoperable, and the Turks have turned to locally made IHA UAVs, which are much less effective.
The Heron Shoval UAVs are very similar to the American Predator A (or MQ-1). The Shoval weighs about the same (1.2 tons), and has the same endurance (40 hours). Shoval has a slightly higher ceiling (9,600 meters/30,000 feet, versus 25,000 feet) and software which allows it to automatically take off, carry out a mission, and land automatically. Not all American large UAVs can do this. Both Predator and Shoval cost about the same ($5 million), although the Israelis are willing to be flexible on price. The Shoval does have a larger wingspan (16.5 meters/51 feet) than the Predator (13.2 meters/41 feet) and a payload of about 137 kg (300 pounds).