Murphy's Law: The Phantom UAVs of Turkey


November 4,2008: For the last five years, the Turkish Army has been trying to buy UAVs. All efforts have failed, so far, 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.

The most recent effort involved buying an American Predator UAV. The manufacturer told the Turks that, normally, it would take seven years to get one (there is a backlog), but that 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 last month and, so far, nothing. Based on past experience, the forecast is for more nothing, following by still more nothing.

Consider the purchase of $190 million worth of Israeli Heron UAVs back in 2004. The aircraft have not entered service yet. That's because The Defense Ministry insisted that Turkish firms were to supply some of the components, like the cameras, and delivery was scheduled for October 2007. But the Turkish camera suppliers had some problems integrating their equipment with the UAV, delaying service until, well, any day 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, details like the number of Herons supplied.

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. The Defense Ministry had not made arrangements for the U.S. Predator to operate inside Turkey, so now the lawyers, pundits, journalists and diplomats are making threatening noises.



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