Turkey, too good of an opportunity for Argentina’s UAS capabilities development?

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Unmistakably, Argentina has been one of the frontrunners in UAS development from the last 30 years on. Initiatives from both private and Armed Forces R&D institutions had a certain degree of success but due to lack of actual government commitment beyond the concept and prototype phases, have failed to provide a lasting and concrete deployment of such systems in Security and Armed Forces. In the region, military/security UAS as of commercial UAS are in use. Both Israel and the U.S. hold a massive share of the sales for the mission-specific aircraft, even in some cases with licensed production of them. On the other hand, Chinese commercial systems are in large numbers both in government, law enforcement as for privates.

Argentina’s Air Force, Army and Navy have been instrumental for the development of local capabilities but not to the extent beyond the successful LIPAN family of UAS developed by the Army. Naval development has been very limited, even considering the interest by the Marines to acquire shoulder launched and larger UAS, with no results so far. Argentine state company INVAP sought since 2010 to develop Class I, II and III UAS and it's main components for both security and armed forces with its SARA project. SARA stands for Argentine Airborne Robotic System, to which only it could develop a single Class IIA prototype but in lesser degree of complexity than the one in the Air Force, who was until then a second line competitor.

None the less, the Air Force R&D’s department with assistance of related academic institutions have been, slow paced, developing the Vigia family of UAS. With focus on developing two platforms, MALE and HALE, with tactical and strategic capabilities respectively. The Air Force has failed to provide actual ISR capabilities and more than just one scaled training prototype, one full size IIA class prototype and an IIIB class mock up. Considering the lack of both budget and human resources, the original concept for a class III HALE UAS with Hydrogen fuel cell is nothing more than a pipe dream.

Similar efforts in regional air forces have shifted from local production to “turn key” acquisitions or license-built ones. Chile and Colombia have both purchased Israeli UAS and Brazil has turned to local production of IAI Heron as ‘Cacador”, Hunter in Portuguese.

Considering existing strategic Israeli links in the region as of both political and budgetary restrictions to buy U.S. made UAS, another option can be taken seriously, Turkey. Several high-level contacts took place between both nations with regards to the G20 summit that took place in Buenos Aires last December. Multiple offers were considered and discarded but a purchase for Aselsan ACAR surveillance radars was made to improve detection capabilities in the northeastern ‘triple border’ between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.

Multiple proposals have been made by the turks for ammunition, armored vehicles, helicopters and radars, in which there also unmanned airborne systems. While reviewing all the current and in development systems, the Bayraktar TB2, can be of special interest. This high endurance MALE can accomplish both ISR missions and provide a precision strike capability. It has seen combat use by both security forces and armed forces against combatants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria as for PKK within Turkish territory.

Powered by a single Rotax 912 engine, has capabilities of both radio and satellite links with a full multi sensor suite for day/night detection and strike. The TB2 can make use of MAM, MAM-L and OMTAS missiles which have provided a lightweight and formidable precision strike capability, fully certified and NATO standard. Now, after years in the field and multiple upgrades, it can be considered as a truly mature system, with 60.000+ flight hours in Turkish service as of 2019.

Ukraine has recently bought a full TB2 system, including 6 UAS, operating shelters, support and ammunition for a little over 60 million USD. Possibly facilitated and funded by the Turkish government at much lower cost than its U.S. counterpart, Predator/Reaper, and while being more expensive than the Chinese CH-4 UAS, which does not hold much of a reputation and some of its operators are already selling off. Such an inexpensive ‘turn key’ acquisition can provide an almost immediate and mature, both ISR and light strike, capability to the Argentine Air Force. Furthermore, advancing on the current Turkish development of HALE armed UAS Akinci, well within argentine’s intention on incorporating an aircraft of such capacities.

Akinci’s concept can perform with even more endurance and payload than TB2 also incorporating new capabilities for EW. Turkey’s military-industrial complex is well committed in this UAS with as much indigenous R&D and components as possible, based in the development of ANKA, which is to replace. Avionics, Mission Control Systems, Radar, Guided Weapons and different engineering services can be provided with argentine know how, contemplating both funding and demand from Turkish armed forces. Something important considering the instability in any long-term development by the argentine state itself, so taking profit on the traction provided by its main operator.

Any analysis can complain that this would as a matter of fact, terminate all concrete argentine effort to develop current indigenous platforms, independently of the origin of this UAS, being Israel, Turkey or the U.S. But the actual fact and the commitment itself turning from an incipient local development into an induction of combat proven UAS and a long term partnership into the development and acquisition of a state of the art, and much needed, HALE UAS such as Akinci, while retaining key personnel and know how, now focused in supporting this will work in the long term both for the project and Air Force’s needs. If this course of action should be taken, a period of a few years will come to have both indigenous and foreign programs running simultaneously so the transition would not let the Air Force’s interest unattended.

The most time and effort consuming phase will be, if it’s the case, when Israel and the U.S. show their discomfort in this decision as well as offers to counter the Turkish deal, contemplating current complexities of turkish diplomacy and the U.S.. Later, once committed, the deal will be under pressure by human rights organizations and others that can claim any remote strike capabilities by controlling third parties and the rules of engagement if needed, that have to be supported by the legal framework and ministry of justice according to due compliance. Any failure on these matters will turn to a complete failure on the acquisition and operation itself.

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