Israeli Manufacturers’ Turkish UAV Contract

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A Turkish newspaper reports this morning that Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) and Elbit Systems have won a contract estimated to be worth $200 million to supply unspecified varieties of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to the Turkish military. The report, which quotes sources in Turkey's military industries, claims that the contract is expected to be signed on May 1, during the visit to Israel by Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan. Elbit Systems manufactures the Hermes family of tactical UAVs, as well as the smaller man-launched Skylark. IAI Harpy anti-radar attack UAVs are already in service with the Turkish armed forces. IAI also manufactures the popular Hunter, the Searcher Mk. II, Ranger UAVs specially adapted for inclement European conditions, Heron tactical UAVs, and the close range I-VIEW UAV.
Heron Takeoff

IAI Heron
(click to view full)

In April 2005, Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) and Elbit Systems won an contract to supply medium endurance unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to the Turkish military. Turkey’s local industry would provide sub-systems and services amounting to 30% of the contract.

The contract’s terms have been the subject of shifting reports, and the type of UAV was not specified in the official releases. Over time, however, clarity has emerged on several fronts. One front is the UAV type: the same Heron UAVs that serve with Israel, India, Canada, and other customers. Another front has involved problems with the contract, related to the weight of made-in-Turkey equipment. As clarity has emerged on those fronts, however, a 3rd front – the political front – is introducing complications.

Contract Arrangements and Participants


According to various sources, the contract involves 10 Heron UAVs, plus surveillance payloads and ground control stations. A subsequent IAI/Elbit Systems news release several months later provided additional clarity:

“The contract is valued at $150 million and each company’s share will amount to approximately $75 million. The contract was signed in May 2005 between Israel UAV Partnership (IUP) and the Turkish MOD is entering into effect now.

IUP is an equally owned partnership between Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) and Elbit Systems. IUP will act as the major subcontractor to TUSAS Aerospace Industry (TAI) for the program. The systems will be delivered to the Turkish MOD over a three-year period, and will be operated by the Turkish Armed Forces.”

Turkish reports refer to a $183 million contract, with about $50 million earmarked for Turkish subsystems.

The UAVs – and the Issues

UAV Heron

Heron in India
(click to view larger)

The Israel-based Defense Update Magazine asserts, and other follow-on articles report, that the contract is for IAI Heron medium-altitude, long endurance (MALE) UAVs. It will also include Elbit Systems’ ground systems, and appropriate payloads from Turkish manufacturers. Subsequent reports indicate that the Turks will be receiving an updated version of the Heron called “Shoval,” or “Heron 1,” to distinguish it from original models, and from the newer “Heron 2/ Eitan” model.

The Heron is capable of flying for more than 30 hours at a time, at altitudes exceeding 32,000 feet. It has a maximum range of about 3,300 kilometers and can carry a maximum payload weighing 250 kg/ 550 lbs. It’s built to carry multiple payloads at a time for a variety of multiple missions, which can include electro-optical and thermal surveillance equipment, SAR radars for ground surveillance, maritime patrol radars and sensors, signals and other intelligence collection antennas and equipment, laser designators, and even radio relays.

The payloads are currently one of the problems, though they began as a key initial opportunity. Aselsan’s Aselfir 300T turret of electro-optical cameras, infrared, and laser rangefinder/trackers weighs 93 kg/ 205 pounds, which is significantly more than the 145-155 pound IAI MOSP turrets used by the Israelis, or the similar 155 pound AAS-52 system carried by the Predator. Its weight was reportedly a deal-breaker for General Atomics, which withdrew its MQ-1 Predator because that UAV couldn’t meet Turkish performance requirements while carrying it.

Neither has the Heron, which reportedly found itself limited to an altitude of 21,000 feet in Turkish tests, instead of the desired 30,000 feet. IAI insists that the final UAVs will meet Turkish specifications, thanks to more powerful engines that will be installed in the UAVs to help them perform with the added weight. Integration of the payload also delayed the project, and the Turkish air force still hasn’t formally accepted the 2 Herons IAI delivered, citing failure to meet the specifications of the contract.

Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul had said that the delivery of the remaining Herons would be completed before June 2009, but in November 2009 an announcement was made regarding a 50-day deadline. Wrangling over the contract’s terms, which reportedly include fines for delivery delays, or failure to meet terms, followed, and all of these issues were eventually resolved or shelved by February 2010.

Turkey’s Plan B?

Aerostar UAV

Aerostar UAV
(click to view full)

As an interim solution, Turkey reportedly purchased 3 smaller Aerostar tactical UAVs from Israel’s Aeronautics DS, paid $10 million in 2007 to lease 3 Herons from Israel as a temporary solution, and later bought an IAI Searcher II tactical UAV to replace one Heron UAV that was lost during a 2007 mission.

Even these interim solutions were complicated by the neo-Ottomanist AKP government’s ongoing hostility toward Israel, which led to the withdrawal of Israeli trainers, operators, and maintenance personnel in June 2010. Technical staff had reportedly returned by November 2011, despite Turkey’s announcement that it was severing all military relations, but the long term future of that relationship in unclear.

Over the longer term, Turkish Aerospace Industries has a project underway to manufacture TIHA/ Anka UAVs, which are intended to have performance similar to IAI’s Herons. The prototype was expected to run in test flights in 2010 and to be delivered by 2011, but the UAV has had aerodynamic issues, and 2012 is the earliest it may be delivered.

Another option may involve buys from abroad. Turkey has signed an MoU to join EADS jet-powered Talarion UAV project, if it ever becomes a going concern. The MQ-1 Predator can’t carry heavy Turkish surveillance payloads, but General Atomics’ MQ-9 Reaper is designed to carry much heavier payloads, at higher altitudes. It’s also significantly more expensive than the Predator or Heron, but Turkey has reportedly submitted a formal export request to the USA. Nothing has come of that yet, though 4 USAF MQ-1 Predators were redeployed from Iraq to Incirlik AB in Turkey, to continue surveillance of Kurdish PKK terrorists in cooperation with Turkey.

Contracts & Key Events

2010 – 2011

Israeli UAV deals begin falling apart under political pressure; Turkey close to fielding its own smaller ANKA UAV.

Shoval UAV

(click to view larger)
Dec 22/11: Roadblock. Elbit Systems Ltd. announces that they will have to end performance under a $90 million contract “awarded several years ago, to supply systems to a foreign customer”, as the Israeli Government did not renew Elbit’s export authorization “due to political considerations.”

“The Company has turned to the Israeli Ministry of Defense regarding compensation with respect to potential liability the Company may incur as a result of the non-renewal… At the present time, there is not an estimate of the amount of the damages that may result from the non-renewal of the export authorizations. Such damages may have a material impact on the Company’s financial results.”

Israeli sources confirm that the permit revocation applies to Turkey, but pertains to a December 2008 sale of LOROP/Condor II reconnaissance pods and ground-looking SAR radar pods. On the other hand, the Jerusalem Post’s report had a section that set a broader context:

“Defense officials said that Israel was working to improve ties with Turkey but that the Defense Ministry is “responsible for every product that receives an export license” and that it could not currently permit the delivery of the intelligence-gathering systems to Turkey.”

Nov 23/11: Support. Today’s Zaman:

“Israel recently sent technical staff for the renovation of Heron unmanned air vehicles (UAV)… These five and at least two others that had other problems were sent to Israel for repair. However, there were significant delays in their return. In September, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly complained about these delays. This, intelligence sources say, worked to speed up the delivery process, as Israel has recently returned all of the Herons… A technical team sent by Israel is now in Batman province of southeastern Turkey where Israeli-made Herons were deployed.”

Nov 13/11: Plan B – USAF Predators. Turkey claims that it will have sole responsibility for the routes and missions of 4 USAF MQ-1 Predator drones, deployed at Incirlik AB in southeastern Turkey to gather intelligence on Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorists. Today’s Zaman:

“The foreign minister clarified it was Turkey that requested the continuation of drone surveillance after the US pullout as the country has greatly benefited from data obtained by the unmanned aerial vehicles in its fight against the PKK… The four US drones arrived at Incirlik in late October… The deployment of the US drones in Turkish territory is separate from the request to purchase [MQ-9] drones from the US.”

Oct 6/11: Plan B – Turkey’s Anka. In the past year, Turkey has moved closer to joining the Talarion project, talked with the USA about receiving Predator and/or Reaper drones, and held flight tests of its own TAI TIHA/Anka UAV. Unfortunately, media sources report that the Ankas are living up to their name (Phoenix) and not surviving their landings, due to a combination of wind shear and narrow landing gear.

An Oct 22/11 TAI release touts successful completion of its 5th test flight, while mentioning automatic takeoff and landing systems as a forthcoming improvement. Arutz Sheva | sUAS News.

Sept 13/11: After Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced Turkey’s decision to suspend military and diplomatic relations with the country, Israel has suspended delivery of ESM emissions locators for Turkey’s E-737 AEW&C planes. The report in Today’s Zaman adds that:

“Turkey purchased 10 Herons from Israel in a 2004 tender costing about $183 million… Turkish army officers started to fly them after Israeli technical personnel left Turkey following the diplomatic crisis between Turkey and Israel. Sources said that two of the Herons are unusable and the other three have engine problems. Five Herons are currently in Israel undergoing repairs.”

Sept 2/11: A UN report commissioned by General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon to investigate the Israeli raid on the Turkish-backed Mavi Mara flotilla to Gaza in May 2010 finds that Israel was within its rights to blockade Gaza and stop international ships. In response, Turkey Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutolu announces that Turkey is expelling Israel’s diplomatic envoy, and will cut all military ties with Israel. BBC | UK’s Telegraph.

Aug 18/11: In the wake of a Kurdish PKK attack that left 13 soldiers dead in Diyarbakir, a counter-terrortism police force is being created – and will be given Heron UAVs.

“The Security Directorate’s UAVs will collect real-time intelligence in the rural areas of southeastern Turkey where the PKK frequently carries out attacks. Intelligence gathered by the UAVs will be transferred to the Aviation Bureau of the Security Directorate in Ankara’s Golbasi district, from where Special Operations Teams will constantly receive intelligence, which will allow them to carry out operations against the PKK.”

See: Eurasianet | Today’s Zaman.

June 18/11: Plan B – Talarion? EADS Cassidian CEO Stefan Zoller confirms that Turkey has signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the proposed jet-powered Talarion UAV, though there is no certainty that the program will proceed to development. At present, it is privately funded by EADS, and is being proposed for European countries, but they have not made it a funded development project. Defense News | Defense News Show Scout.


(click for video)

June 16/10: Reports surface that IAI and Elbit have recalled the teams of engineers and flight instructors who were helping the Turks operate standard Heron-1 UAVs as a tactical stopgap, and train for operation of the modified Herons with Turkish equipment.

There are conflicting reports regarding the impact of this move, which was reportedly sparked by concerns for the contractors’ safety in Turkey. Turkey’s Today’s Zaman says that the move has forced the Turks to a “Plan B” approach using indigenous IHA drones, with far less range and altitude capability. If, indeed, they are operating successfully. Other reports suggest that the reports are purely for show, while the Turkish military continues operating the Herons. Turkish defense minister Gonul himself has said that Turkey can and will continue to fly the Herons itself.

The long term deal is also in some question, though 8 of 10 systems have already been delivered. IAI and Elbit released a statement saying that as far as they knew the deal had not been cancelled, but Turkey’s steady drift toward the Iran-Syria axis under the Islamist AK Party has created serious and escalating tensions with Israel, as well as tensions involving Turkey’s military. Defense establishment source have told reporters that the workers will return to Turkey as soon as the crisis between Jerusalem and Ankara is over. As time goes on, it looks more and more like that normal relations may not return, as long as the AKP remains the government. Turkish AKP defense minister Gonul is on record saying that Turkey should maintain military cooperation with Israel, but he faces a growing political threat to his position as a result. Arutz Sheva | Jerusalem Post | ynet News || Today’s Zaman re: aftermath | Today’s Zaman re: Gonul.

Feb 14/10: Hurriyet Daily News quotes SSM head Murad Bayar:

“Six of the [10 total] aircraft have successfully passed the tests inspected by a team of Turkish officials [in Israel]…, We are expecting their deliveries in the weeks ahead… This closes the deal from our point of view.”

The report adds that the manufacturing team will pay $18 million in compensation for late delivery on the $183 million contract; the interesting question is how that penalty will be split between IAI ad Elbit on the Israeli side, and their Turkish partners whose share of the contract is reportedly about $50 million.

Note that the story’s accompanying picture is of an American MQ-1 Predator UAV, not IAI’s Heron.

Jan 6/10: Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul announces that differences with Israel over the Herons had been resolved, and that a Turkish team will leave on Jan 11/10 to carry out acceptance tests in Israel. Hurriyet.

2007 – 2009

Deal signed, but runs into trouble; Turkey’s own UAV R&D efforts also in trouble.

Dec 28/09: Reports surface in Turkish media that the country’s indigenous UAV programs are encountering significant obstacles. Hurriyet reports that a 2004 contract with TAI to develop a MALE UAV in the same class as the Heron has yet to record a prototype flight. It’s expected to fly some time in 2010, but performance remains a big question mark. Turkey may seek to join a European MALE (Medium Altitude Long Endurance) UAV effort called Talarion, and retains its request for MQ-9 Reaper HALE(High Altitude Long Endurance) UAVs/UCAVs. With respect to Israeli UAVs:

“Last week, Muharrem Dörtka?l?, the director-general of Turkish Aerospace Industries… said that Turkey and Israel had recently reached an accord to keep the program in place, but that the contractors, including the two Israeli companies, would have to pay a penalty… defense source said… between $10 and $15 million… In another hitch with Israel, Turkey had to return three smaller Aerostar tactical UAVs… acquired… as a stopgap solution until the delivery of the Herons was completed. The systems were returned due to their high noise levels emitted that ended in scaring off targets.”

Nov 23/09: Today’s Zaman quotes Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul as saying that that Turkey has sent a letter to IAI and Elbit Systems, giving them 50 more days to fulfill the Heron deal or face cancellation:

“If this letter does not bear fruit either, the tender may be cancelled. But there is no cancellation at the moment… This is nothing to do with politics,” he said, underlining that the problems were completely technical.”

The report also quotes a senior SSM official, who says the procurement agency plans to impose a $3-4 million monetary penalty on Israel for the delays, followed by resort to the International Court of Arbitration (ICC) if necessary. The moves come amidst strained Israeli-Turkish political relations.

May 17/09: Today’s Zaman offers a deeper look at the Turkish UAV program’s progress, problems, and prospects. Read “Turkey stymied by problems with Israeli Heron UAVs.”

April 9/09: Flight International reports that:

“Israel Aerospace Industries has delivered the Turkish air force’s first two Heron medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned air systems to Batman air base. Flight-testing should conclude this month, with the remaining eight air vehicles to be delivered in May.”

Yes, they really said “Batman air base.” IATA code BAL, near Diyarbakir.

Jan 29/09: The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News reports that Turkey is looking to buy MQ-9 Reapers, and submitted a formal request in December 2008. The ultimate decision by the United States on whether to accept and present this formal export request to Congress through the US DSCA is expected in the next 6 months.

The MQ-9 Reaper has a payload capacity of around 3,000 pounds, and is designed to fly up to 50,000 feet. On the flip side, it is substantially more expensive than the MQ-1 Predator or IAI Heron, and trades higher carrying capacity for shorter flight durations than its smaller competitors.

Aug 27/08: Looks like delivery delays are still an issue. Middle East Newsline reports that:

“Turkish industry sources said the General Staff has been displeased with delays by two leading Israeli defense companies. The sources said both the state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries and Elbit Systems have failed to meet deadlines in their UAV projects for Turkey.”

Note that none of the reports to date specify why the deadlines keep slipping. IUP is a joint industrial partnership involving Turkish firms as well as Israeli companies. The problems that have stymied delivery could lie on either side of that partnership, or on both sides.

Dec 29/07: A StrategyPage report claims that the problems with the Turkish UAV deal lie on the Turkish side of the industrial partnership:

“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 early 2008… So the Israeli manufacturer made an interim deal to supply wholly Israeli Herons, along with support personnel, on a $10 million lease.”

Dec 27/07: The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reports that Turkey has begun using IAI’s Heron UAVs as part of its military operations against Kurdish PKK terrorists in northern Iraq. The report also quotes Turkish sources that claim IAI personnel are acting as field support contractors.

It adds that the Heron UAVs have had their delivery delayed by unspecified complications, annoying the Turkish military and leading to a $10 million interim lease of UAVs until delivery takes place. The first shipment was initially set for October 2007, but has reportedly been postponed until the spring of 2008. See also AP report.

Additional Readings & Sources

Note the changing parameters throughout.

* Defense Update – Heron UAV. Notes Turkish deal.

* – Heron/Shoval/Eitan.

* Israel Defense Forces – The Shoval

* Turkish SSM Export Portal – ASELSAN ASELFLIR-300T Airborne FLIR

* Wikipedia – TIHA

Other insights

* Middle East Forum (Winter 2012) – What Drives Turkish Foreign Policy? Changes in Turkey

* Rudaw (Oct 16/10) – AKP’s Strategic Depth and the Kurdish Question

* Jamestown Foundation (Dec 18/08) – Turkish Military in Need of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

* IAI Corporate Release (Sept 1/05) – Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) to Supply Jointly With Elbit Systems UAV Systems to The Turkish MOD: Contract valued at $150 million

* Shephard’s (April 26/05) – Washington Questions Turkey’s UAV Deal. Though better background re: the particulars of the dispute around the solicitation process can be found at…

* C4SI Journal (April 25/05) – IAI-Elbit Wins Turkish UAV Deal Over U.S. Firm. Deal value placed at $183 million.

* Turkish Daily News (April 23/05) – Turkey’s UAV deal with Israel raises eyebrows in Washington

* Globes Online (April 18/05) – IAI and Elbit Systems win $200m Turkish UAV contract

* C4SI Journal (Feb 14/05) – Turkey Seeks Local Solution to UAV Need.

* Joint Force Quarterly (Winter 2002) – An Israeli military innovation: UAVs. Details the history of military UAV development in Israel, which was a global pioneer in the field.

(DID originally covered this on April 20, 2005. The original news article gave a figure of $200 million with 33% workshare, until Elbit’s news release came out a couple of months later with a $150 million figure. Further research pinpointed the UAV type, which had not been disclosed in the releases or in response to DID inquiries.)

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