As the United States continues to grapple with the legal ramifications of using armed unmanned aerial vehicles to strike individuals, a slew of countries are eager to develop their own drones and mimic American tactics. Turkey is an avid supporter of drones and argues that it needs an indigenously-built UAV to combat the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the Kurdish insurgents it has been fighting since the 1980s. The problem is that the Turkish republic seems to have adopted the principles currently guiding the U.S. use of drones: Say nothing about how you employ them and ignore the potential consequences.
The PKK has come to dominate the country's security planning, but for years the Turkish Army's large conscript force and emphasis on heavy equipment left it ill-equipped to effectively fight an insurgency, particularly during the winter months. So, in addition to professionalizing its forces, it focused on improving its intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities. Ankara, therefore, purchased off-the-shelf drone systems from the United States, partnered with Israel for sale of Heron UAVs, and launched an effort to build one of its own -- an effort that has apparently come to fruition. Turkey now claims that the country's first domestically produced UAV -- a reconnaissance drone dubbed the "Anka" -- is set for serial production.
While the Anka was beset with problems during testing, the drone is reported to be able to operate for 24 hours at an altitude up to 30,000 feet in adverse weather conditions during the day or at night. The Anka will primarily be used to surveil Turkey's Kurdish majority southeast and the PKK camps in the Kandil Mountains in Northern Iraq. Ankara hopes to develop an armed version of the Anka so that it can decrease the time needed to launch airstrikes against Kurdish targets. To help augment Turkey's drone capabilities in the interim, Ankara has requested unarmed and armed Predator and Reaper drones from the United States.
Despite Turkey's repeated requests, U.S. export control law and congressional opposition will likely prevent the sale, but the Obama administration has sought to appease its Turkish counterparts and has agreed to station four unarmed Predator drones at Incirlik Air Force Base. The drones are flown by an American contractor from a joint operations center near Ankara. Turkish Air Force officers are in the room with their American counterparts and reportedly have the authority to direct the drones' movements.
In 2011, Turkish officers in the Ankara operations center directed an American drone to surveil a known smuggling route near the Kurdish majority town of Uludere.* After a group of men were spotted crossing the border illegally, the Turks reportedly ordered the Predator to fly away. A Turkish Heron then picked up the surveillance, and the Turkish Air Force bombed the smugglers.
*Correction: This sentence originally misstated the year of the surveilance as 2007.