Heron UAV
Heron UAVIsrael news photo: IAF

In an attempt to bolster its leadership role in the Arab world, Turkey has recently done almost everything it could to alienate Israel, to the extent that neither currently has an ambassador in the other's country. Turkey also decided to cut off all government-based business deals with Israel – ending a formerly substantial trade in military equipment, including, according to Defense News, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs); according to the publication, Turkey purchased 10 Heron UAVs from Israel Aircraft Industries in 2010. No more such purchases are likely.

But as relations continued to worsen with Israel – and as Turkey decided that the time was ripe for it to take a regional leadership role – Ankara has decided to produce as many of its own weapons as possible, including UAVs. So Turkey, according to Defense News, made a strategic decision to ground its Israeli UAVs and produce its own version of the pilotless patrol planes. And following the government's directive, Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) promptly designed and produced a home-grown Turkish UAV – the Anka, which the government hoped would fulfill Turkey's needs for UAVs; perhaps Ankara would even be able to develop an industry around the craft.

Only one problem, though; so far, every prototype Anka that TAI has produced has crashed.

On paper, the Anka is impressive. It was envisioned as a medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) aircraft, capable of carrying more than 200 kilos for a full day, at an altitude of up to 30,000 feet. But in the field, the Ankas are pretty useless, Defense News says. The first test version, produced last December, flew for 14 minutes before falling from the sky. Subsequent versions have shown slight improvement, and in May, the Anka managed to stay aloft for 90 minutes before smashing to smithereens, and the third prototype, flown in September, flew for nearly two hours before crashing.

The problem, apparently, is an engineering one. Turkey's Hurriyet Daily News quoted a Turkish analyst as saying that wind shear was upsetting the balance of the plane's wings on landing. As the plane's dual landing gears are too close to each other, the plane tends to tip over as it lands, and the landing takes place on one of the wings – guaranteeing a crash. A government official acknowledged the problem, saying “we will definitely resolve this problem and definitely make the Anka operable. In the future, the Anka definitely will become the most useful asset in fighting terrorism.”

However, the Anka may not have much of a future. At a meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last month, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met with U.S. President Barack H. Obama, who promised to supply Turkey with advanced Predator drones - the MQ-1 Predator used for surveillance, and the MQ-9 Reaper, use for attacks. Both are in extensive use in Iraq, and Turkey has sought to purchase them for several years. Hurriyet reports that the number of drones to be sold to Turkey is not known, but they are likely to be “used,” being sent over from Iraq as the United States continues to withdraw troops.

While the Predator deal will satisfy Turkey's needs for drones, it will crimp the new regional superpower's style – since use of the drones will be limited to conditions that the U.S. sets down, which means that Turkey will likely be unable to use them to attack Kurdish rebels, for which most of its weaponry has been deployed recently. In addition, the drones are likely to be based at the U.S. military base in Incirlik, further limiting the freedom with which Turkey can deploy the drones. And while there are no such conditions on Turkey's IAI Herons, Ankara is determined not to use them, if at all possible – in order to distance itself from Israel. As a result, Turkey has no choice but to keep pouring money into is Anka program, officials said – and one way or another, they said, they were determined to succeed.