June 23, 2010:
Military commanders in Turkey and Israel appear to get along better than their respective governments. The latest example of this occurred after June 12th, when Israeli UAV technicians and instructors were recalled from Turkey, where they were training Turkish troops on how to operate and maintain six Israeli Heron UAVs. The Israeli personnel were withdrawn because it was believed they might be attacked. Turkey promptly announced that Turkish made UAVs would replace the Israeli Herons. But the Turkish military, which always had better relations with Israel than the Turkish government, made other arrangements, and kept the Herons flying. The remaining four Herons are to be delivered, with or without Israeli personnel in attendance, by the end of the year.
The Turkish government has become increasingly anti-Israel in the last six years. The Islamic politicians, who were elected in 2002, have adopted an anti-Israel, anti-West attitude, and use this to increase their stature in the Islamic world. This is a return to the past. 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 in the region, it was still hobbled by corruption and mismanagement. The Islamic politicians promised to attack the corruption (which they have) and return religion to a central place in Turkish culture (a work in progress). This has upset a lot of secular Turks. But it's fashionable to hate Israel these days, over their efforts to cope with Palestinian terrorism.
The Turkish Army has always been more secular. It was Turkish officers, led by general, and national hero, Kemal Ataturk who carried out the secularization program, and began building good relations with the West. Many Turkish officers see the current government trying to undo what Ataturk started, and they are not happy about it.
The Turks had ordered ten Herons six years ago, but delivery was delayed because of problems with the Turkish made sensor package. Meanwhile, the Turks are still fighting Kurdish separatists in northern Iraq, and really need those UAVs. Three 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. Now, the Turks have the Herons they ordered, and apparently the Turkish troops had learned enough to keep their Herons operable, with the help of minimal (via email and cell phone) advice from Israeli technicians.
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 (30,000, 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.