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Turkey Provides Glimpses of its New Defence Projects

Towards the end of October, the Turkish showcased its growing line up of homegrown weapons, especially in terms of drones. Turkey is an established player in the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) space, but it may carve a leading spot in the unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) and unmanned surface vessel (USV) markets as well. However, drones are not the only area where Turkey is showing promise. Its bigger vendors – i.e., Aselsan and Roketsan – are working on marque aerospace projects as well.

More Drones

Alpagut Loitering Munition

STM and Roketsan are entering the loitering munition space with the “Alpagut.”

According to STM, the Alpagut weighs 45 kg, including an 11-kg warhead as well as guidance and seeker equipment. In terms of the latter, the Alpagut leverages a ‘two-mode’ seeker that offers resistance against enemy jamming techniques. In other words, it uses two seeker-types to ensure redundancy in case one is jammed. It is unclear what seekers the Alpagut uses, but a common application typically involves a radar and imaging infrared (IIR) seeker. This would generally cover most seeker-neutralization efforts.

STM did not unveil the range of the Alpagut. However, STM is aiming to have the Alpagut available as an air-launched application first. It is likely that Turkey’s forthcoming UAV models, like the Bayraktar TB3 and others, will be able to use the Alpagut. Surface-launched versions of the Alpagut will be available later.

One of the key things to keep in mind with Turkey’s drone and loitering munitions programs is that these are not disconnected from a broader vision. Turkey is clearly working towards a warfighting future focused on unmanned, autonomous platforms and munitions. It envisions a future where a platform (such as the Bayraktar Kızılelma) will deploy autonomously-operating munitions.

Basically, while systems like the Alpagut and Bayraktar drones draw attention, the work Turkey is certainly doing behind the scenes (in artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data, etc) is equally valuable. But it is not as visible. However, these projects are bearing fruit as well. The STM KERKES, for example, utilizes artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) algorithms to provide a navigation suite that does not rely on GPS or satellite-aided location/navigation services.

Unmanned Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Solution

Turkey’s Presidency of Defense Industries (SSB) revealed the MIR, an unmanned surface vessel (USV) that was designed for anti-submarine warfare (ASW). However, Aselsan and its private sector partner, Sefine, say that the MIR is a modular platform. Thus, the end-user can configure it for a variety of missions.

Like its other drone programs, Turkey is aiming to offer versions of the MIR that can be remote-operated or autonomous, based on user requirements. Once again, this speaks to the underlying point of Turkey’s vision for autonomous platforms. In the naval space, this could be a significant gamechanger.

USVs can offer a lower cost means of deploying radar, electronic intelligence, countermeasures against low-intensity threats, and special mission (e.g., ASW) nodes at scale. Currently, the bulk of these missions are handled by larger vessels, like corvettes and frigates. The latter concentrate these capabilities among fewer vessels which, potentially, limit coverage and situational awareness. USVs can help close potential gaps and weaknesses at scale. Moreover, when combined with AI/ML and big data, the end-user may be able to derive highly optimized deployment strategies.

The second big theme is that Turkey’s state-owned entities (SOE), like Aselsan, are collaborating with the country’s private sector to rapidly develop original solutions. The MIR is among several USV projects now under development and nearing production in Turkey.

This approach indicates that Turkey’s SOEs are choosing to specialize in the areas they excel in at one end, but defer to the private sector for other areas. In this case, Aselsan is focusing on the electronics, but it is working with Sefine to design and build the ship platform for the USV.

When dealing with solutions that could require significant production runs, this is the most efficient and cost-effective approach to development. It makes little sense of Aselsan, for example, to set up overhead to design and build ships. Granted, it could have worked with shipbuilding SOEs, but it seems that Turkey is deferring bigger projects – like frigates and submarines – to those entities.

Havelsan Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV)

Turkey’s other defence electronics giant, Havelsan, revealed the Kapgan ‘heavy class’ unmanned ground vehicle (UGV). Havelsan says that the Kapgan has a mass of 1,400 kg and a capacity of 600 kg. Interestingly, it uses an electric motor that offers a maximum speed of 25 km/hour and endurance of six hours.

One of the marque features of the Kapgan is that it is equipped with an optional wireless (or wired) drone of its own. Moreover, Havelsan says that it developed the Kapgan for “swarm” drone operations involving up to 10 unmanned vehicles. Once again, AI/ML is playing a big role.

In light of Turkey’s other drone projects, it is possible that the country is scaling a common infrastructure or development effort for AI/ML so that it can use it across multiple platforms.

Key Aerospace Projects

Roketsan Micro-Satellite Launch System (MUFS)

Turkey’s Roketsan is working towards launching miniature or micro satellites in low earth orbit (LEO) by around 2026. This will happen through an indigenous satellite launch vehicle (SLV). Already, Turkey wants to localize as many of the SLV’s critical inputs – e.g., liquid fuel rocket engine, propulsion control system, and navigation systems – as possible. Turkey’s goal is to eventually synchronize its SLV programs with its indigenous satellite development projects, which will include larger systems down the line.

Turkey’s SSB initiated the MUFS SLV program in 2018. The goal of the MUFS is to launch micro-satellites (weighing 100 kg or less) to LEO, approximately 400 km above the surface. Roketsan is the primary vendor or contractor responsible for the MUFS. In 2020, Roketsan tested four sounding rockets, which it says had helped drive the development of tis liquid-fuel rocket engines. The next phase is to launch a probe rocket in 2023, and the aim of those tests will be further validate Roketsan’s new rocket technologies. There are also rumours that Roketsan is studying the idea reusable rocket engines.

Aselsan Offers Glimpse of MMU/TFX’s Helmet-Mounted Display and Sight (HMD/S) System

Aselsan also revealed a hint of the helmet-mounted display and sight (HMD/S) system it is developing for Turkey’s next-generation fighter aircraft (NGFA), the MMU/TFX. According to local Turkish media reports, Aselsan is working towards a fairly advanced design similar to the BAE Striker II.

The Aselsan HMD/S is said to comprise of two main pieces. First, an ‘inner-layer’ that is custom-moulded for each individual pilot. This customization is meant to deliver as much comfort to the pilot through an accurate form-fitting design. Second, an ‘outer-layer’ that likely comprises of the electronics suite. Unlike many current HMD/S systems, the Aselsan suite will apparently rely on a projector that will display on the vizor instead of a monocular lens. In addition, the HMD/S will use active noise cancellation and 3D sound.

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