Turkey builds on military electro-optics capabilities

Turkey builds on military electro-optics capabilities

Turkey builds on military electro-optics capabilities

The inset photo shows the inauguration ceremony of the national center for electro-optical technologies in the Central Anatolian province of Sivas.

Turkey’s defense planners have marked electro-optics as a priority technology to support the country’s ongoing and future radar and space programs.

There are several military programs centering on advanced radar capabilities and electro-optical technologies, including gallium nitride. 

In December, Turkey’s military electronics specialist Aselsan, the country’s biggest defense firm, launched an electro-optics company in Kazakhstan; in May it will launch another in Jordan. The national center for electro-optical technologies was also inaugurated over the weekend. An Aselsan subsidiary, Aselsan Hassas Optik A.Ş., will operate at a techno park at Cumhuriyet University in Sivas, while also undertaking close cooperation with the university.

Aselsan officials said the new venture would pave the way for the national design and production of sensitive technologies like ultraviolet and visible and near infrared bands. 

“I believe that one day this company will possess the technologies for the design and production of space telescopes,” Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz said at the inauguration ceremony. 

Procurement officials have underlined the importance of electro-optical technology. “We support all R&D and production programs involving this technology,” said an official. 

Industry sources estimate that over $1 billion in turnover may be created in the next five years, in both R&D and contracts. “This is a promising market, especially for a country like Turkey that plans to invest a lot in radar and space programs,” said a Western defense executive.  

System developments

Aselsan is developing a radar which the company hopes will be outfitted to the TF-X, an indigenous fighter jet Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) has designed. This radar can be based on the gallium nitride technology.  

Gallium nitride is a binary direct band-gap semiconductor. Its sensitivity to ionizing radiation is low, making it a suitable material for solar cell arrays for satellites. Military and space applications could also benefit as devices have shown stability in radiation environments. In military electronics, the element is used in active electronically scanned array radars.
Developing the gallium nitride technology is one of the defense-related R&D programs that was selected last year by Turkey’s procurement agency, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM), for development. 

Aselsan has also been developing ASELFLIR-235, a multi-sensor electro-optical surveillance and targeting system. Aselsan hopes that ASELFLIR-235 will prove to be a better fit than the ASELFLIR-300 series, which has been outfitted to Israeli-made Heron drones, the Turkish drone prototype ANKA, as well as to naval platforms, including two landing ship tanks currently under construction.

Aselsan is also developing ASELFLIR-135, a multi-sensor electro-optical surveillance system designed for tactical unmanned aerial aircraft, helicopters and small naval platforms. 

Meanwhile, Turkey will soon receive the first deliveries of the DW110, a strategic reconnaissance pod developed by Goodrich of the United States. Eventually, these pods will be outfitted to scores of Turkish F-16 fighters. The pods have an operational range of up to 150 kilometers. 

Procurement authorities have said they may task Aselsan with developing an indigenous pod like the DW110. 

In space programs, electro-optical technology would be needed to support Turkey’s numerous satellite projects. Most of these programs will feature electro-optical cameras for satellite applications.

For example, TÜBİTAK-UZAY, a space unit of Turkey’s state scientific research institute, is developing electro-optical cameras for ongoing and future satellite projects in a program coded “Imece.”