Turkish UAV’s: A new Loitering Munition Called Alpagut.

Turkish arms developers and manufacturers have introduced a new loitering munition called Alpagut. This is a 45 kg (99 pound) UAV with an endurance of 60-90 minutes and a range of about 60 kilometers from the aircraft or UAV that launched it. There is a 11 kg (33 pound) warhead that can be used against armored vehicles or air defense systems. Alpagut can be launched day or night to detect and attack any moving or stationary target, or just a target that meets certain criteria like the radar of an air defense system. The pilot or UAV operator has the option to decide if a target the UAV has detected should be attacked. There are plans to develop a surface (land or ship) version of Alpagut. There’s nothing extraordinary or novel about Alpagut but it is competent and will first be used by Turkish forces, where it will gain combat experience and any problems will be fixed. Then Alpagut will be offered for export to nations attracted by the lower prices or the fact that Turkey is the only major arms manufacturer that is a Moslem majority country.

Since the 1990s Turkey has sought to develop the capability to develop and produce Turkish versions of most of the weapons and munitions Turkey had to import. This was done without stealing patented tech from other nations, as Russia and China have long done. Turkey wanted their new entrepreneurial arms manufacturers to be able to freely export its munitions, especially the innovative or less-expensive ones. The next phase was to do the same with more complex systems like guided and ballistic missiles. One late comer to all this, Bayraktar, did with UAVs what older Turkish firms had done with munitions.

Until an Islamic government took power two decades ago, Turkey often made deals with Israel to obtain military tech or just as a source of high-tech weapons. The Islamic government encouraged hostile relations with Israel but after about a decade even the Islamic government realized that hostility towards Israel was a mistake and has since been working to re-establish friendly relations with Israel.

This is important because Israel can be a valuable ally when you are developing new weapons for local production and use. This was certainly the case with loitering munitions, which Israel pioneered the development and use of. Such was the case with Harpy, one of the first modern loitering munitions that Israel developed in the 1980s and introduced in 1989. Turkey imported Harop before relations with Israel fell apart. Six years later an improved Harpy call Harop was introduced. In 2018 a much improved loitering munition, Skystriker, was introduced. The Skystriker is basically a small (35 kg/77 pound), very quiet propeller-driven cruise missile with a two-hour endurance and capable of autonomous or operator-controlled movement. Skystriker is launched from a catapult mounted on a vehicle. If Skystriker, with five to ten kg (11-22 pounds) of explosives on board, does not find a target it can return and land, using a small parachute, for reuse.

Skystriker was designed to improve on the popular features of Harpy and Harop and do it at less cost per UAV. Its most direct competitor was Harop, which didn’t see combat until early 2016. Harop is a small hybrid design UAV that can either be used for reconnaissance multiple times or once as a cruise missile. Harop is a conventional small aircraft with a cranked delta wing and its propeller in the rear. Harop is actually a UCAV (Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle) controlled by a remote operator and capable of flying more than 1,000 kilometers or loitering for up to 6 hours while carrying a 23 kilogram (51 pound) high explosive warhead. It can be launched from an aircraft or from a sealed storage/launch container mounted on vehicles or ships.

Developed in 2005 from the earlier (1990s) Harpy, Harop improved on the original design by achieving better performance because it is a little longer with added outer wing extensions and a canard. Harop is 2.5 meters (8 feet, 2 inches) long, has a 3-meter (9 feet, 10 inches) wingspan and weighs 135 kg (298 pounds). Top speed is 185 kilometers (115 miles) per hour.

Harop was exported to India, Turkey and Germany. Unlike the original Harpy design, which was primarily designed to operate autonomously on SEAD missions, the Harop was designed to either operate autonomously (like many UAVs) or under remote control. When operating autonomously it cannot be jammed and it is sent out to detect and home in on radar signals from specific types of enemy air defense radars. In this respect it is like the classic HARM anti-radiation missile, using an anti-radar homing system to cripple enemy air defenses. Unlike Harpy, Harop can also be remotely controlled. This enables the operator to find and select static or moving targets using an onboard vidcam or FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared) heat-sensing camera. While under remote control targets can be hit whether their radar is on or not. The remote-control operation uses line-of-sight communications that are effective at up to 150 kilometers from the operator. That range can be extended using another aircraft or UAV to relay the control signals farther.

Even when sent out with a warhead Harop can return and land if it did not find a target and be reused. Harop also has a stealthy design which, in addition to its small size and quiet engine, makes it very difficult to detect by radar or infrared (heat detecting) sensors. This stealth feature was meant mainly for SEAD missions because most air defense systems have sensors meant to detect approaching hostile aircraft. If these sensors detect an approaching unidentified aircraft the radar can be promptly turned off to avoid a HARM missile or other SEAD airstrike. Modern HARM missiles get around that by capturing the location of a radar signal and then homing in on where it came from, not the signal itself.

In the last two decades many more loitering munitions have been developed and used. Many of these are being used in Ukraine, most of them Western designs provided to the Ukrainian forces.

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