Turkey's defense bureaucracy could soon follow in the footsteps of a 2013 French move and request U.S. congressional approval for the sale of an unarmed version of a U.S.-made drone after its appeal for an armed version failed Hurriyet Daily News reported.
Defense sources said Turkey acknowledged its prior request and could now renew it for an unarmed version of the Reaper drones, made by the U.S. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems.
"Apparently, our first request was not perfectly realistic," one senior official admitted. "An unarmed Reaper may also suit our operational requirements."
Turkey has long been unsuccessful in its quest to secure Washington's approval for the sale of the drone's armed version.
Last year, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of a possible Foreign Military Sale to France of 16 MQ-9 Reaper Remotely Piloted Aircraft and associated equipment, parts, training and logistical support for an estimated cost of $1.5 billion.
Also included in the sale package are spare and repair parts, communication, test, and support equipment, publications and technical documentation, airworthiness and maintenance support, site surveys and bed-down planning, personnel training and training equipment, operational flight tests, U.S. government and contractor technical and logistics personnel services, as well as other related elements of logistics support.
The French shopping list for the MQ-9 contained about almost every item when governments buy complicated weapons systems but lacks one: arms. Paris had asked to acquire the unarmed Reaper for "reconnaissance and surveillance purposes only."
"We may follow a similar line," the Turkish official said. "And have quite good chances of getting the system."
Italy's request to arm its Reaper fleet has remained unanswered for more than three years and Britain is still the only U.S. ally in the world that possesses the armed Reapers - and that's for the Afghan military campaign.
"Congress' reluctance over the Reaper sale was because Ankara kept on asking for an armed version," a U.S. defense source said. "Things may be different with a request for an unarmed version."
The MQ-9 Reaper, also known as the RQ-9 Predator B, is the first hunter-killer unmanned aerial vehicle designed for high-altitude surveillance and assault. The MQ-9 Reaper was developed by the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems.
General Atomics wanted to sell the Predator, the MQ-9's unarmed, much less agile version, to Turkey in the mid-2000s, but lost out in a competition with Israel, which at the time proposed the Heron system.