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Turkish Aerospace Outed A Massive Bomber Drone

May 16, 2019

Via TAI.

A stunning revelation at the IDEF 2019 arms show in Istanbul, held from April 30 until May 3, was a massive twin engine and twin-boom medium altitude UAV from Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI). The “Aksungur” was on display atop a small stage, its wings loaded with ordnance. While not the first armed drone to emerge from Turkey, it looks like the most ambitious yet. A large single engine twin-boom drone like the Israeli Super Heron, for example, can travel a thousand kilometers. With two engines and a wingspan many times longer than its fuselage, the Aksungur looks like a genuine bomber tailored for close air support (CAS).

But while TAI was eager to publicize the Aksungur and its upcoming helicopter gunship at IDEF 2019, little was shared about the former’s actual performance characteristics. This is understandable for a prototype that must be put through its paces. But the inert armaments it carried at the show can’t be ignored, with three hardpoints on each of its wings loaded with ordnance. A glide bomb was even left below the Aksungur to indicate the variety of munitions it’s able to deliver. When the Aksungur does enter service in a surveillance or dedicated CAS role it will have a lot on its plate, from targeting Kurdish insurgents to keeping tabs on Turkey’s busy coastal waters.

Analyzing the Aksungur may seen challenging, but comparisons prove adequate tools when trying to assess what it can do. The size of its nose blister means it houses a satellite antennae, confirming that it’s meant to travel far beyond Turkish airspace if the mission requires it. The familiar presence of a FLIR gimbal on its nose means it loiters for extended periods, maybe up to 20 hours, and is ready to lock targets before eliminating them. Its two propellers are the greatest mystery, however, as measuring their combined horsepower should reveal the Aksungur’s flight speed. TAI have kept mum on its engine type so this specific detail remains a mystery.

A few years ago the Chinese aerospace company Tengden did tease a twin engine twin-boom UAV that subscribed to the same principles as the Aksungur, being equipped for surveillance and combat. Meanwhile, Iran has gone ahead and weaponized its long endurance Fotros twin-boom UAV with air-to-ground missiles. This sudden turn to heavier drones meant for extended missions is a rare trend removed from the US’ own aspirations for unmanned aircraft, which are now focused on jet power, integration with fifth-generation fighters, and airborne refueling. The countries that are keen on propeller-driven combat UAVs like the Aksungur seem to envision protracted regional wars as distinct possibilities.

The success of the Aksungur in the 2020s–if it does succeed–should invigorate exports to Turkish allies. A handful of probable customers immediately come to mind: Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Qatar. What they all have in common, aside from their patronage of Turkish military products and weapon systems, are coasts and sea lanes of utmost importance to their national interest. Whether it’s Azerbaijan’s stake in the Caspian or Indonesia’s hold on distant gas-rich islands, the unarmed (and maybe armed) Aksungur is meant for patrolling these locations.

In just a handful of years TAI has grown beyond expectations with a portfolio that rivals much larger aerospace companies. The scope of its work, from a would-be fifth-generation stealth fighter to a new 20 ton transport helicopter, is so broad it’s remarkable how it manages to roll out functioning prototypes at exhibitions.

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