Netanyahu Pressured on Palestine Peace Freeze

TEL AVIV — Escalating pressures from abroad and within are pushing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to clarify once and for all his coalition government’s policy on two-state peace with the Palestine Authority (PA).

As world leaders, movie stars and other luminaries converged here last week to honor Israeli President Shimon Peres on his 90th birthday, Netanyahu was graciously supportive yet noncommittal to the nonagenarian’s US- and EU-backed vision of a secure Israel living alongside a demilitarized Palestinian state.

But Netanyahu is finding it increasingly difficult to bridge international expectations for a two-state peace with the gaping domestic dissent shaking his three-month-old government. With US Secretary of State John Kerry visiting the region this week to reactivate talks, Netanyahu soon will be forced to reconcile his professed, albeit conditional, support for a Palestinian state with prominent naysayers within his top ranks.

“Netanyahu can no longer count on the convenience of ambiguity to stave off competing constituencies. He’ll very soon have to reveal his true face with regard to the two-state solution,” said Alon Pincas, a former Israeli consul-general in New York who participated in  rounds of Palestinian peace talks.

In a week of events honoring Peres, the sole surviving partner of a 1993 agreement with PA, Barbra Streisand, Sharon Stone, Bill Clinton and other celebrities joined forces in prodding the Netanyahu government back to the negotiating table. From Streisand’s nationally televised song of prayer to Clinton’s insistence that there is no “credible alternative… for preserving Israel’s character as a Jewish and democratic state,” high-profile visitors exhorted Israel to embrace the two-state plan.

“Democracy is not only majority rule, but also minority rights,” Clinton said in an address at the Peres Academic Center in Rehovot, south of here.

Referring to the nearly 2.7 million Palestinians — according to latest CIA estimates — living in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Clinton said, “The question [the Israeli public has to] confront is, is it really OK with you if Israel has people in its territory that will never be allowed to vote? If so, can you say with a straight face that this is a democracy? If you let them vote, can you live with not being a Jewish state?”

Closer to home, Netanyahu’s professed Palestine policy was openly maligned by leaders in his own government, some of whom threatened to quash any meaningful steps toward a two-state deal.

Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu’s political partner in the coalition government who chairs the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, suggested Kerry’s shuttle diplomacy between Jerusalem and Ramallah is destined to fail, with negative consequences for both sides.

“If you keep spreading around hopes and expectations all the time and they cannot be realized, it only ends up causing disappointment and frustration,” said Lieberman, Israel’s foreign minister in absentia pending a verdict in his ongoing corruption trial.

Netanyahu was further embarrassed by his minister for economy and trade, who essentially eulogized the notion of a Palestinian state and called for Israeli annexation of most of the West Bank.

In an  intemperate June 19 address to a conference of Jewish settlers, Naftali Bennett said: “The idea of creating a Palestinian state is over.”

Israeli Justice Minister Tsipi Livni, Netanyahu’s lead negotiator with the Palestinians, has repeatedly threatened to quit the coalition if the Israeli premier cannot muzzle hardliners bent on undermining resumed peace talks.

Stabilizing Force

Meanwhile, at a June 18 meeting in Jerusalem with diplomats and foreign press, Israel’s top commander in the West Bank presented an operational assessment that appeared to support both sides of the two-state divide.

Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, commander of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Central Command, said the shuttle diplomacy by Kerry had a stabilizing influence on the Palestinian streets of the West Bank.

Nevertheless, he said Hamas, the extreme Muslim authority in Gaza that rejects Israel’s right to exist, was maneuvering for control over the largely secular Fatah organization administering the PA in the West Bank.

“Hamas is restrained in Gaza, but trying to translate its vision into a plan to dominate Palestinian society in the West Bank,” Alon told the gathering at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. “But I don’t think Hamas can get into power as long as we are on the ground.”

The commander credited Kerry’s push for resumed peace talks for a halt in PA financing and other forms of support for grassroots activity against the Israeli occupation.

“The last couple of months of intense American involvement has had a positive influence on the ground. The PA has almost stopped financing groups dealing with riots and protests against Israel,” said Alon.

At the same time, the IDF commander warned that expectations generated by ongoing diplomacy could trigger renewed violence should Kerry fail to relaunch peace talks. “If this happens, I’m afraid we’ll see the strain of escalation strengthened,” Alon said.

Defense News

Kroenig: Why the U.S. needs its oversized nuclear arsenal

This week, President Obama gave a speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, calling for the United States and Russia to reduce the size of their deployed nuclear arsenals by one-third to around 1,000 strategic warheads. The call for further cuts has been greeted with enthusiasm in many quarters, but these proposed nuclear reductions could potentially be highly damaging to U.S. interests.

In his speech, the president argued that such cuts would be consistent with the goal of maintaining “a strong and credible strategic deterrent,” but this argument rests on a contested theory about how nuclear deterrence works. The Obama administration, and many scholars and experts, believe that a secure, second-strike capability is sufficient for deterrence and that anything more is “overkill.” Therefore, they believe that nuclear warheads in excess of a “minimum deterrent” threshold can be cut with very little loss to our national security.

However, there are those who argue that maintaining a nuclear advantage over one’s opponents enhances deterrence. As Paul Nitze argued during the Cold War, it is of “the utmost importance that the West maintain a sufficient margin of superior capability. . . . The greater the margin (and the more clearly the Communists understand that we have a margin), the less likely it is that nuclear war will ever occur.”

For decades, this debate was largely theoretical – neither camp marshaled systematic evidence in support of its views – but, recently, I methodically reviewed the relationship between the size of a country’s nuclear arsenal and its ability to achieve its national security objectives. I found strong evidence that, when it comes to nuclear deterrence, more is better.

In an analysis of 52 countries that participated in nuclear crises from 1945 to 2001 (think the Cuban Missile Crisis), I found that the state with the greater number of warheads is over 17 times more likely to achieve its goals. In addition, there is qualitative evidence from these crises that leaders in nuclear-armed states pay close attention to the nuclear balance of power, that they believe nuclear superiority enhances their position, and that a nuclear advantage often translates directly into a geopolitical advantage.

For example, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Secretary of State Dean Rusk argued, “One thing Mr. Khrushchev may have in mind is that . . . he knows that we have a substantial nuclear superiority . . . He also knows that we don’t really live under fear of his nuclear weapons to the extent . . . that he has to live under ours.” Even if Russia agrees to match the president’s proposed cuts, the nuclear reductions would attenuate our advantages vis-à-vis Russia and eat into our margin of superiority against other nuclear-armed states, such as China, possibly increasing the likelihood that the United States will be challenged militarily and reducing the probability that we achieve our goals in future crises.

If there is at least some reason to believe that reductions could harm America’s strategic deterrent, then certainly those in favor of reductions provide concrete evidence that the benefits of reductions outweigh these costs, right? Alas, they do not.

Supporters of further cuts argue that reducing the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. policy will help us stop the spread of nuclear weapons to other countries. They argue that our large nuclear arsenal makes it difficult (if not hypocritical) to tell, say, Iran that it cannot have nuclear weapons, or to demand that other non-nuclear countries (such as Brazil and Turkey) help us pressure Iran. Therefore, they argue, we can generate goodwill and strengthen our nonproliferation efforts by cutting our own nuclear arsenal.

This argument makes sense at a superficial level, but on closer inspection it falls apart. As Iran’s leaders decide whether to push forward with, or put limits on, their nuclear program, or as Brazilian and Turkish leaders think about getting tougher with Iran, they likely consider many things, but it is implausible that the precise size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal is among them. The evidence backs this logic up; the United States has been cutting the size of its nuclear arsenal since 1967, but there is no reason to believe that we have ever received any credit for doing so, or that these cuts have contributed to any breakthroughs on important nonproliferation problems. In short, we can’t stop other countries from building nuclear weapons by getting rid of our own.

Finally, proponents of cuts claim that nuclear reductions will lead to cost savings in a time of budget austerity, but, at least in the short term, nuclear reductions will actually result in cost increases, not decreases. Cutting arsenal size means pulling missiles out of silos, erecting buildings in which to store them, dismantling retired warheads, and decommissioning nuclear facilities. All of this costs money. Only if we think we can maintain a diminished nuclear posture indefinitely is it plausible to think there might be marginal cost savings to be had over the long run. But this would be an unwise bet given that U.S. competitors, including China, are moving in the opposite direction, expanding and modernizing their nuclear forces.

Since there are potential strategic costs and no identifiable benefits to further reducing the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, the United States should refrain from making any additional nuclear reductions. It must not go below the 1,550 warheads agreed to in New START (and it should take its sweet time getting down to that number). In addition, the United States should maintain the “hedge” of weapons it keeps in reserve at current levels and halt the transfer of warheads from storage to retirement and elimination. Finally, the Obama administration must follow through on its promise to fully invest in modernizing U.S. nuclear infrastructure so that it does not lose the capability to sustain a safe, secure and effective nuclear arsenal for decades to come.

Some may find this argument provocative, but it is actually quite anodyne; I recommend simply that the United States maintain the status quo. What is provocative is slashing America’s nuclear arsenal to 60-year lows in the face of evidence suggesting that doing so will harm our national interests.

Newsday

Cirit & UMTAS on show for US border protection

The company expects to also test Roketsan’s UMTAS air-to-surface missile in the near future.

Based in Mooresville, North Carolina, Iomax USA (Chalet A132) has chosen the Paris Air Show to launch its ArchAngel border-patrol aircraft. The ArchAngel has a wide variety of sensor and weapon options available and offers customers a low-cost but highly effective platform for a range of ISR and light attack missions. ArchAngel is in many ways an evolution from the Air Tractor AT-802U armed agricultural aircraft that was previously displayed at Le Bourget. However, much has changed since then.

Although no AT-802Us were produced, Iomax undertook the integration of mission systems for 24 similar AT-802i aircraft that were sold to a customer that was widely reported in the media as being the United Arab Emirates. The ArchAngel builds on that aircraft, with some important changes, not least of which is a switch of airframe supplier to Thrush. Iomax made the change as it can now incorporate its own modifications on the production line, something that was not possible with the Air Tractor.

A new avionics suite is installed, with Esterline CMC Electronics and Honeywell components and an all-new cockpit. The weapon system has also been improved, and with it the range of weapons that is available. The main EO/IR sensor turret is changed from the FLIR Systems Britestar to an L-3 Wescam MX-15, although other turrets are options. The ArchAngel can also be fitted with missile defenses, such as the BAE Systems AAR-57 CMWS, and ballistic protection is an option. Iomax has also designed a flexible pod system that can mount EO/IR sensor turret, SAR/MTI radar, Sigint sensors, video and weapons datalinks, missile and radar warners and UAV command and control systems.

Here at the Paris Air Show the ArchAngel is being displayed with a range of weapons, including the Hellfire missile and Roketsan Cirit laser-guided rocket. Iomax undertook the first firings of Cirit from a fixed-wing aircraft in January, firing the weapon from an AT-802i at a range in the Middle East. Final qualification of this weapon is expected in late August/early September. The company expects to also test Roketsan’s UMTAS air-to-surface missile in the near future, as well as an FN Herstal 0.5-in caliber machine gun pod. Both are represented on the aircraft here in the static display. GBU-12 laser-guided bombs can be dropped and guided, as well as INS-guided weapons. Iomax is shortly to fly a twin-rack launcher that it has developed for these 500-pound class smart bombs.

ArchAngel’s show debut is being made at Paris after a commendably short installation program. Iomax received the aircraft from the Thrush factory in March, and in less than three months had the aircraft back in the air in late May with its new avionics suite and cockpit. The company hopes to undertake in-country demonstrations to potential customers later in the year.

AIN Online

Roketsan joins international submarine-launched missile program

German missile house Diehl Defence (Hall 2c B355) is proposing the GILA (guided intelligent light armament) weapon to the German ministry of defense as a potential weapon to arm the Eurocopter Tiger. The weapon is an adaptation of Elbit’s GATR (guided advanced tactical rocket), which fits a laser guidance package to a 68mm or 70mm rocket. GATR has recently been awarded a demonstration contract by U.S. Special Operations Command.

Diehl is also proposing an innovative use for older AIM-9L Sidewinder missiles that have been replaced in the air-to-air role by weapons such as the Diehl’s own IRIS-T. The LaGS (laser-guided Sidewinder) replaces the air-to-air infrared seeker with a semi-active laser seeker, allowing the missile to be targeted with great precision against ground targets. Thus, older missiles can be reworked to provide a low-cost, low-collateral damage precision-attack option.

Arguably Diehl’s most interesting program, however, is the IDAS (interactive defense and attack system), which is based on the IRIS-T weapon but has been tailored for firing from the torpedo tubes of a submarine. It is intended for use against both surface and air targets.

Developed in conjunction with shipbuilder ThyssenKrupp and Norway’s Kongsberg, IDAS is intended primarily for use with the German 212A-class submarine. Due to budget cuts it was removed from the German MoD’s plans, but Diehl and its partners have continued development using their own funds up to the point where the technologies involved have been de-risked. An IDAS prototype began underwater firing tests in 2006, leading to a launch from a 212A submarine in 2008.

When the risk-reduction phase is complete, IDAS will be offered again to the German navy and also to other nations. Norway has signaled interest in the project, and now Turkey’s Roketsan has agreed to join the program. “We strongly believe that this is one of the weapon systems that can change submarine warfare dramatically,” said Diehl Defence CEO Claus Günther. “It allows a submarine to perform tasks that currently you need a surface vessel for.”

Concerning other systems, Diehl reports that the Swedish air force has become the launch customer for the surface-launched IRIS-T SL anti-air weapon. Sweden’s air defense system will use the standard IRIS-T SLS missiles for short-range interceptions (it already employs IRIS-Ts on its Gripen fighters). The longer-ranged IRIS-T SLM with additional rocket booster stage can also be fired from the same launcher.

AIN Online

Turkey, US cooperate on aid to Syrian rebels

Turkey and the United States have intensified political and military dialogue for strategic planning to smoothly deliver U.S. weapons to the Free Syria Army (FSA), following Washington’s decision to supply military assistance to the Syrian rebels in their fight against the Bashar al-Assad’s army, the Hürriyet Daily News has learned.

On the political level, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Secretary of State John Kerry exchanged two phone calls, one on Saturday and the other late Wednesday, to discuss recent developments in Syria on the eve of a crucial core group meeting of the Friends of the Syrian People on Saturday in Doha. Kerry and Davutoğlu are also expected to hold a tête-à-tête meeting in Doha, in their first encounter since relations between the two allies were strained over the Gezi Park protests.

On the military-intelligence level, technical experts from the two countries are in intense talks to explore the best ways for the delivery of American weaponry to the FSA. Some representatives of the rebels have also been present in these meetings.

One of the most likely potential routes for the transportation of this weaponry into Syria is through Turkey, which has a long border with its southern neighbor, diplomatic sources said. Syria’s northern parts are under the FSA’s control and Turkey has stood as the best logistical center for the Syrian opposition since the turmoil broke in the country in 2011.
The Kerry-Davutoğlu phone conversation late Wednesday mainly addressed developments in Syria, following Washington’s policy change regarding arms supplies to the FSA.

No-fly zone on the agenda of Doha

“After this change of policy, they sure want to be in close coordination with us,” a Turkish Foreign Ministry official told the HDN. “The change in the U.S. position has impacts on the ground and at the political level. Just after Washington declared this change in their policy, 73 senior Syrian army officials -including some four-star generals – defected to Turkey,” the official said.
Davutoğlu is now expected to hold bilateral meetings with some of his counterparts in Doha, including with John Kerry.

The Doha meeting of 11 foreign ministers of the core group of the Friends of the Syrian People follows recent Syrian regime successes, which intensified its attacks to re-take control of the northern town of Aleppo, the country’s economic capital. The conference follows a high-level meeting in Ankara last week between the Friends of Syria, during which FSA commander Salim İdriss discussed the provision of military aid, including heavy weapons, according to Reuters.

“We will discuss everything, including the implementation of a no-fly zone over Syria,” Foreign Minister Davutoğlu said in an interview with private broadcaster TGRT late on Wednesday. The use of chemical weapons, which has been proven by the Turkish and U.S. governments, will also be discussed, while participant countries will explore how to swiftly provide aid to the opposition groups.

Aleppo is key for the FSA and Turkey

The regime’s success on the ground is seen as an warning among the international community. Regime forces’ retaking of critical passage point Qusayir, and particularly its marching toward Aleppo, were important developments on the ground that could give hope to al-Assad that he is winning the fight.
“The message we convey to the core group countries is that it’s time to give more support to the opposition. Al-Assad should not be brought to the point where he is winning the victory militarily. Because in this case, he would never approach us for a political solution,” the Turkish official stressed. Al-Assad’s achievements on the ground would make prospects for the 2nd Geneva meeting almost meaningless, Ankara believes.

Keeping the control of Aleppo is very significant not only for the FSA, but also for Turkey, which is concerned about a massive refugee influx from this town of 3 million people. An increase in the number of refugees fleeing Aleppo has recently been observed, as the total number of Syrians seeking asylum in Turkey has reached 205,000.

HDN

Turkey Picks Saab To Mentor National Fighter Program

Turkey has selected  Saab to help shape its plans to design, develop and manufacture its first national fighter jet.

Ankara has already drafted three models, one of which likely will become its first indigenous fighter, although some analysts said Turkey should have opted for an unmanned model.

“After lengthy negotiations with Saab, we have come to the conclusion to go ahead with this company to finalize our feasibility studies,” a senior procurement official familiar with the national fighter program said.

He said that the Swedish aerospace and defense group  already has assisted with the three models Turkish engineers have drafted, and these would be presented to top management at the country’s arms procurement agency, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM), as well as to the Air Force.

“We are working to make that presentation in September or October,” the official said.

The Saab group’s office here did not respond to questions by press time.

An official from Tusas Aerospace Industries (TAI), the local prime contractor for the program, said that one of the three drafts is a twin-engine stealth aircraft and the other two are single-engine models, also stealthy.

The procurement official said the program has two problems to overcome.

“We need to pick up the right engine manufacturer with which we should be able to work out a long-term relationship. That will be essential. Also, we need to know that a meticulously devised cost-benefit analysis should prove this is a feasible program,” he said.

A government official said the final decision on whether to launch the manufacturing phase would be made by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“A lot will depend on the findings of the cost-benefit analysis in progress now,” the official said. “We would accept a certain margin that will make the Turkish fighter reasonably more expensive than available options. But if we find out that we could only manufacture a fighter, say, [at a cost] 40 to 50 percent more expensive than a proven, off-the-shelf buy option, then the prime minister would probably drop the idea.”

According to a draft plan, the country is aiming for a maiden flight for its national fighter jet in 2023, the Turkish Republic’s centennial. Production would commence in 2021, and deliveries to the Air Force are planned between 2025 and 2035. The aircraft would remain in service until 2060.

“This is a long-term plan, and given technological developments in the global aerospace scene, the Turks should perhaps have gone for an unmanned fighter,” a London-based Turkey specialist said.

Earlier, TAI signed a technical assistance deal with Saab to carry out conceptual design work. This followed an August 2011 deal signed with SSM to begin the conceptual design work for the fighter and trainer jets that Turkey hopes to build.

Designing the first Turkish fighter, according to defense analysts, is a necessary but not critical step.

“What is crucial here is whether this project would enable Turkey to earn capabilities to successfully integrate avionics, electronics and weapon systems into the chosen platform,” the London-based analyst said.

Saab produces the JAS 39 Gripen, a lightweight, single-engine multirole fighter. Saab has cooperated with other aerospace companies in marketing the aircraft and has achieved moderate success in Central Europe, South Africa and Southeast Asia. More than 240 Gripens have been delivered or ordered.

In 2010, Sweden awarded Saab a four-year contract to improve the Gripen’s equipment, integrate new weapons and lower operating costs. Last August, Sweden announced it planned to buy 40 to 60 Gripen NGs. The Swedish order followed Switzerland’s decision to buy 22 E/F variants of the jet.

For its fighter program, dubbed TF-X, Turkey hopes to copy the method devised to co-produce T-129 attack helicopters with Italian-British AgustaWestland.

“We think this model has worked successfully and could be a template for our fighter program,” the TAI official said.

Turkey also plans to buy the F-35. But Turkish officials said they wanted to develop a fighter jet with another country to reduce Turkey’s dependence on Washington.

HDN

Turkey accelerates defence Silicon Valley

Teknopark Istanbul is heading fast toward its planned inauguration this August. It will host over 1,000 advanced technology companies and generate nearly $10 billion annually when completed .

Turkey’s commercial capital Istanbul generates an annual $140 billion and houses about 50 universities, but the country’s defense heavyweights are overwhelmingly located in and around the official capital Ankara. Now it’s time defense companies put one foot in Istanbul to make sensible partnerships with the world’s most prominent advanced technology companies and university-generated “science” in Istanbul.

The Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM), Turkey’s sole defense procurement agency, wants the accumulated scientific and industrial knowledge in Istanbul to be introduced to the national defense industry. The venue for that ambition will be Teknopark Istanbul that opens late in August.

“Our principal mission is to contribute to the national innovation system and to boost the local industry’s international competitiveness through multinational partnerships and technological advancement. That’s a mission fully in line with the Turkish government’s strategic objective of creating an increasingly independent, competitive and export-oriented local industry,” explains Teknopark Istanbul’s CEO, Turgut Şenol.

Turkey’s “defense and aerospace Silicon Valley,” will operate a 950,000-square-meter indoor space at the Sabiha Gökçen Airport, accommodating more than 30,000 people, 1,000 top advanced technology companies, 18 universities and targeting $10 billion in defense and nondefense business annually, to become one of Europe’s largest technology parks.

Defense priority

Şenol aims to bring together companies and universities in Istanbul, targeting strategic fields like aviation, maritime, electronics, information technology, nanotechnology, energy and automotive, biotechnologies, automation systems, and robot technologies. Contracts have been signed with over 100 companies for the first phase of the project. SSM’s chief, Murad Bayar, once described Teknopark Istanbul as “Turkey’s best technological center.”

The huge lab’s major shareholders are SSM and the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce. The partners will spend $4 billion in the project in the next 12 to 15 years.
“This is not a profit-targeting venture for either partner. Presently, over 1,000 international companies are headquartered in Istanbul. We want these multinational entities to have a view of Istanbul not only from a commercial dimension, but also from a technology development aspect. We want to improve innovation on a national level by making us of local and foreign partners here and, thus, to turn scientific and academic knowledge into high-tech commodities,” Şenol explains.

Defense will be a priority sector but not the only one.

The defense industry is often a recipient of technology from several other sectors. There are many non-defense industries which supply technology to defense industry. “Aviation will have a special place in this project, as evinced by the fact that Teknopark Istanbul is located at one of Istanbul’s two airports. It will become one of the major reference points in aviation technologies in the next few years,” Şenol said.

Tax exemption

Resident companies’ research and development activity at Teknopark Istanbul will be exempt from corporate and income tax. Similarly, software companies will be exempt from the value added tax. Operating costs like power will also be supplied at major discounts. Resident companies also will enjoy free of charge local and international consultancy services.
“Almost every major player in Turkish defense industry will be here. There is also great interest from Turkish and foreign automotive industry companies. We are now discussing modalities of residence with several major European and U.S. defense companies. There also will be advanced technology companies from the Far East,” Şenol said.

HDN

TN to receive new-generation maritime patrol planes

Finmeccanica company Alenia Aermacchi is to supply eight new-generation ATR 72-600 maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft to the Turkish Navy under a contract amendment signed with Turkey’s Defence Industries Undersecratariat (SSM) at IDEF 2013 in Istanbul on 8 May.

The agreement – which is an amendment to a contract signed in 2005 for the supply of 10 ATR 72-500s – will see the delivery of two platforms configured as Turkish Maritime Utility Aircraft for personnel and cargo transport and six platforms configured as Turkish Maritime Patrol Aircraft (TMPAs) to fulfil Turkey’s maritime patrol requirements.

|The new -600 version of the ATR 72 replaces the now out of production ATR 72-500. Key features include a ‘glass’ cockpit and more powerful engines, which will provide better performance and long-term serviceability, according to the company.

Modification of the two ATR 72-600s is already well under way at Alenia’s plant in Naples-Capodichino, with delivery to the Turkish Navy set for June and July 2013.

Meanwhile, Turkish Aerospace Industry (TAI) has started conversion work on the first of the six ATR 72-600s at its Akinci facility following its delivery in April.

Turkey launches military exercise near Syrian border

The Turkish military launched a 10-day exercise at a base near the border with Syria on Monday, where fears of a spillover of violence and of the fallout of any chemical weapons use have escalated in recent weeks.

The exercise at Incirlik, a NATO air base outside the city of Adana where U.S. troops are also stationed, will test the military’s readiness for battle and coordination with government ministries, the general staff said in a statement.

“(The exercise will) test joint operations that would be carried out between ministries, public institutions and the armed forces at a time of mobilization and war,” it said.

While the exercise in Adana province, some 100 km (60 miles) from the border, was described by NATO’s second-biggest military as “planned”, it comes at a time of heightened tension.

Turkey is sheltering nearly 400,000 refugees from Syria’s more than two-year conflict, has become one of President Bashar al-Assad’s most vocal critics, and has scrambled war planes along the border as stray gunfire and shelling hit its soil.

A Turkish border guard was killed and six others wounded last week in a clash with armed men at a border crossing along the 900 km frontier.

Turkish experts are meanwhile testing blood samples taken from Syrian casualties brought to a Turkish hospital from fighting in Syria to determine whether they were victims of a chemical weapons attack.

U.S. President Barack Obama last year said the use or deployment of chemical weapons by Assad would cross a “red line”.

Assad’s government and the rebels accuse each other of carrying out three chemical weapon attacks, one near Aleppo and another near Damascus, both in March, and another in Homs in December.

The civil war began with anti-government protests in March 2011. The conflict has now claimed an estimated 70,000 lives and forced 1.2 million Syrian refugees to flee.

Vestel’s Karayel ready for delivery

The Turkish Land Forces is due to receive the first of six Karayel tactical UAVs following a series of improvements implemented by manufacturer Vestel Defence.

The company expects to deliver the first example of what had been known as ‘Version II’ but is now the baseline version of the Karayel by mid-year, with the following five by the end of 2013.

Now 6.5m in length and featuring a 10.5m wing span, the upgraded Karayel has a maximum take-off weight of 550kg, doubling its payload and endurance, to 70kg and 20 hours respectively.

Speaking at the IDEF exhibition in Istanbul on 7 May, a company spokesman said after the earlier version had been demonstrated to the Turkish armed forces, the army determined it needed a slightly bigger, more capable aircraft and placed an order instead for six of the upgraded aircraft.

Vestel is confident that should the army determine it needs additional platforms, it has the capacity to be able to increase production to one aircraft per month.

The spokesman noted that while there was early interest from international customers, the company was ‘trying to keep everyone calm’ until the testing regime had finished and the current deliveries are made to the Turkish armed forces.

Vestel also used the exhibition to publicly unveil the smaller Bora UAV, which it is using to derisk the avionics, autopilot and datalink communications of the Karayel.

The company spokesman said many of the critical technologies were first demonstrated on the Bora before being integrated with the larger airframe.

However, the Bora will also be offered to the Turkish Armed Forces as a training aircraft for operators moving onto the Karayel as well as being marketed as a stand-alone product.

Shephard Media