Middle East UAV landscape up in the air
UAV development in the Middle East has long been dominated by Israeli technology but the picture is changing as a number of nations begin to channel investment into maturing their own domestic UAV development and manufacturing capabilities. Claire Apthorp reports.
Sovereign UAV technology is an attractive prospect for any national defence industry adding, as it does, a compelling set of capabilities to national security interests.
The impact of these capabilities is, perhaps, more loaded in a region where tensions remain high and sensitivity along land borders is a primary concern.
Turkey has seen a long history of partnership with Israel for its domestic market, which has enabled the nation to develop advanced defence manufacturing capabilities of its own.
A handful of companies are working within this market, including Baykar Makina with its Bayraktar mini UAV, Bayraktar tactical UAV, and Malazgirt mini VTOL system (all in production); and Vestel with its Efe target acquisition system (demonstrated to potential Turkish customers), and Karayel target acquisition, target location and target designation system currently in production.
In addition to the R-10E VTOL (with one hour endurance, 500m maximum altitude and 16km LOS communications), and R-300 VTOL (with 4hr endurance, 3,650m ceiling and 100km LOS communications), TAI-TUSAS Aerospace Industries is producing the most noteworthy UAV programme in the region with the Anka medium altitude long endurance (MALE) UAV.
First unveiled at the Farnborough Air Show in 2010, Anka is being developed for the Turkish Armed Forces. At that stage, three aircraft and one ground control station had been purchased by the Turkish Air Force (TAF), although the system was yet to conduct its maiden voyage, which took place in December 2010.
The system has a length of 8m, wingspan of 17m and is designed for day and night, all-weather ISR mission capabilities with EO/IR/LD/LRF and SAR/ISAR/GMTI payloads. With an endurance of 24 hours and maximum altitude of 30,000ft, the UAV also features fixed or moving target tracking capability, ATC radio relay over datalink, on-board data recording capability, and potential capabilities including SATCOM, SIGINT & communications relay.
Developed to replace the Elbit System Heron MALE UAV in service with the Turkish Armed Forces, the Turkish government only confirmed in January this year that it would be purchasing the system, when it was announced that 10 units would be procured; and the company has since revealed that it has its sights set on the international market, with possible customers said to include Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Qatar.
It will be interesting to see what kind of impact Turkish technology will have on the international MALE UAV market. In 2011 at the Dubai Air Show, UAE company Adcom revealed that it also has designs on this market, with the unveiling of a full-scale model of its United 40 MALE UAV, designed for strategic missions, with a maximum take-off weight of 1,000kg, payload capacity of 200-400kg, endurance of 25hrs and ceiling altitude of 7,000m.
With an s-shaped fuselage, similar to that of the earlier Smart-Eye 1 UAV, the system has a tandem-wing design and flexible payload of two gimballed camera platforms, and four pods located under wings, each with a 100kg weight capability. It also has the potential to be weaponised.
Adcom has developed a number of other systems of varying size and sophistication, including the Yabhon-M, -R, -R2, -RX and -Smart Eye, designed to perform a range of ISR, border control and remote area monitoring missions.
The expansion of domestic production capabilities within the Middle East will only increase as manufacturers gain confidence and their platforms mature and attract international customers.
The impact this development will have on the control of technology within the region remains to be seen. As countries that currently don’t have access to Israeli- and US-built technology begin to develop and improve their own, and find themselves with new markets opening up to them, the current balance is likely to shift. This was most recently demonstrated by the downing of a UAV of unknown origin in Israeli airspace in early October; it shows that not only is there more happening within UAV development in the region than meets the eye, that development is in some areas far more advanced than expected.