‘Turkey suspends delivery of ANKA drones to Egypt’

‘Turkey suspends delivery of ANKA drones to Egypt’

That was, more or less, the title of a slew of news stories in the Turkish (and foreign) press recently. The lead paragraph would proudly announce to the reader that the Turkish government had made punishing decisions against Egypt’s interim (coup) government, and one of the decisions was to suspend the delivery of Turkey’s national unmanned aerial vehicle, the ANKA, to Egypt despite an earlier agreement. Readers’ comments were truly fun: Hats off to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for punishing Egypt’s coup leaders by putting a halt on the delivery of a strategic, all-Turkish military aircraft. Hats off to the colleagues who fabricated that story!

As always, facts are slightly different than the news produce of Erdoğan’s willing propagandists in the media: 1- There never was an agreement between Turkey and Egypt for the sale of the Turkish drone ANKA, 2- Hence, no deliveries had been scheduled, 3- Naturally, one could not suspend unscheduled deliveries under a deal never signed, 4- The ANKA is not an aircraft anyone could sell because it does not exist even in the Turkish Air Force’s inventory, 5- There is not yet even a contract to sell the ANKA to the Turkish military, and 6- The “all-Turkish” ANKA boasts a foreign engine, foreign automatic take-off and landing system, foreign landing gear, foreign flight data computer, foreign radio, foreign sensor and may even feature a foreign targeting pod soon – not to mention its Persian name.

I remember that one of Erdoğan’s election billboards before the 2011 parliamentary elections had claimed: “Our own aircraft is in the skies!” The billboard was a reference to the ANKA, which at that time had been briefly in the skies, making one crash landing after another. But never mind, rumor has it that the “Turkish” drone can nowadays take off and land without much damage.

If you take every piece of defense-related propaganda news seriously then you might be tempted to believe that Turkey will build its own fighter jet in the next few years by spending nearly – an optimistic – $32 billion in an ambitious program. The cost estimate, sadly, excludes the engine for the aircraft. When you just add to that modest budget another $16 billion Turkey optimistically hopes to spend on the new generation, multinational fighter, the F-35, you would realistically conclude that Turkey is talking about spending $50 billion to $55 billion for new fighter jets – plus whatever it may deem appropriate to spend for about 200 jet engines.

The only trouble is not whether that sum will be available in the Turkish vaults. There is another minor snag: Who will fly all those new generation aircraft? According to Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz, in January/February 2013 alone, 110 military pilots, 63 of whom are warplane pilots, quit service. Another 11 are behind bars on charges of plotting a coup against Erdoğan’s government. There are several others who are mulling their career options in civilian life, and no fewer are waiting for the first chance to get a nice pension package and retire. Unless, of course, they are arrested on charges of attempting to undermine the Turkish Armed Forces just by deciding no longer to work.

Meanwhile, the last annual reshuffle of the top brass on Aug. 3 introduced Turkey’s least senior commanders ever for all four services. Surely, a colonel as air force commander will be out of question for a long time, but Erdoğan’s military advisers should at once find a solution to the emerging pilot shortage in the service.

Recruiting war pilots from among the graduates of Erdoğan’s favorite education institutes, the imam schools, could be an option. Hiring, on a part-time basis, pilots from friendly/brotherly countries in Turkey’s vicinity could be another: The air forces of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Armenia, Bulgaria, Greece and Israel would surely volunteer to help.