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Interview

``As Gendarmerie Aviation Department, We Stand Unwaveringly by Our Nation and Are Ever Ready to Assist!

Gendarmerie Aviation, which is preparing to celebrate its 55th anniversary, is today an important element of the Gendarmerie General Command. While Gendarmerie Aviation is considered as a separate force multiplier in the calculation of combat effectiveness, on the other hand, with the help of its experience gained within the scope of the Counter-Terrorism Operations (CTO), it plays a crucial role in the recovery process in the aftermath of natural disasters such as wildfires, earthquakes, and floods. Established in Diyarbakır in 1968 under the name of the "Light Helicopter Company" for unit transportation, public security, reconnaissance and surveillance, and the evacuation of patients and wounded, the Gendarmerie Aviation Department has conducted over 500,000 flight hours to date and holds a prominent place within the Gendarmerie General Command. In this regard, we conducted a comprehensive interview with Major General Ali DOĞAN, Chief of the Gendarmerie Aviation Department, to get first-hand up-to-date information about its primary roles, missions, vision, ongoing modernization efforts, views on UAVs, its place in the Gendarmerie Units around the world, as well as its performance and contributions following the Kahramanmaraş earthquakes. The interview was held on July 31, 2023, at the Gendarmerie Aviation Command Headquarters located at the Martyr General Eşref BİTLİS Barracks in Güvercinlik, Ankara. This exclusive interview sheds light on the current status and achievements of Gendarmerie Aviation.

Date: Issue 125 - August 2023 Update: April 19, 2024

Defence Turkey: While Gendarmerie Aviation is an important element of the Gendarmerie General Command, it is also considered as a separate force multiplier in the calculation of combat effectiveness. What can you say about the role, duties, and vision of the Gendarmerie Aviation Department within the Gendarmerie General Command?

Major General Ali DOĞAN: First and foremost, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude for collaborating with us on this project. It is indeed a distinct pleasure for us to present ourselves to the Turkish nation through this special issue on the 55th anniversary of the Gendarmerie Aviation Department, as well as to be featured in Defence Turkey, a national aerospace and defence magazine. We also extend our gratitude to you for granting us this opportunity.

The primary mission of the Gendarmerie Aviation is to provide aviation support necessary for the execution of law enforcement and security services entrusted to the Gendarmerie General Command by legislation. The uninterrupted continuation of the tasks of the Aviation Department Units and their ability to perform their duties in all weather conditions hold paramount importance. Our Gendarmerie Aviation units, with their full complement of aircraft and personnel, are an integral part of the Gendarmerie General Command. They provide aerial support to all units of our Gendarmerie as needed, in locations and times required, for counter-terrorism operations, disaster relief efforts, as well as public safety and security duties. While staying abreast of all technological advancements worldwide, our department aims to enhance Gendarmerie's aviation capacity by further modernizing it. This includes acquiring new aircraft, training aviation personnel, effectively upgrading and equipping existing aircraft, and staying up to date with the most efficient equipment.

Defence Turkey: Which aircraft and systems does the Gendarmerie Aviation Department, which assumes significant roles in national security and defence, currently operate in its inventory? Can we also get your opinions on the aircraft that are planned to be procured in the upcoming period?

Major General Ali DOĞAN: Efforts are ongoing to ensure the effective continuity of aerial support in all tasks executed by the Gendarmerie General Command.

a) To primarily support aerial traffic enforcement tasks of the Gendarmerie General Command, three gyrocopters have been added to our inventory. With common features with aircraft and helicopters, these ultra-light aerial vehicles can take off and land on short runways and carry payloads of up to 250 kg. Notably, the gyrocopters are exclusively operated by the Gendarmerie General Command.

b) To fulfill the requirement for a medium transport/utility helicopter with low maintenance/operating costs, high maneuverability, carrying capacity, secure communication, and high-precision navigation systems, T-70 Helicopters have been produced and assembled at the TUSAŞ facilities. The initial delivery of these helicopters has been made to the Gendarmerie General Command.

c) To provide day and night air support capabilities during the Counter-Terrorism Operations of the Gendarmerie General Command, such as close air support (CAS), armed reconnaissance, aerial assault operations, and protection of SAR (Search & Rescue) helicopters, T129 ATAK Helicopters, produced at TUSAŞ facilities, have been added to our inventory.

d) To address the Gendarmerie General Command's requirement for a light transport/utility helicopter, we aim to contribute to the Indigenous Helicopter Program carried out by TUSAŞ and to include the T625 GÖKBEY Helicopter, the first domestic and national helicopter produced by Türkiye, into the inventory of the Gendarmerie General Command.

e) The Gendarmerie General Command continues its efforts for the procurement of the HÜRKUŞ-C Next Generation Light Attack/Reconnaissance Aircraft to support the domestic and national development of the project, to possess the capability to independently meet the need for close air support provided by the Turkish Air Force, to increase effectiveness in Counter-Terrorism Operations, and to meet the need for a rapid and effective aerial CAS platform.

f) Procurement efforts for the Initial Training Aircraft Project continue to address the increased pilot demand by introducing new aircraft. The project aims to provide initial pilot training for all pilot candidates and standardization, instrument card control, and emergency training for existing aircraft pilots.

Defence Turkey: How does Gendarmerie Aviation prepare itself for the battlefield environment of the future in terms of personnel training? Could you inform our readers about the ongoing pilot and technician training programs within this scope?

Major General Ali DOĞAN: Training is one of the most crucial aspects for a pilot, a technician, and all units within the aviation sector. Training a pilot or technician is not merely a course; it's an educational endeavor. Obtaining a pilot's certificate requires a minimum of 52 weeks of training. Both globally and in Türkiye, the shortage of pilots and aviation schools has made it challenging to secure a skilled workforce for the aviation sector. The Gendarmerie Aviation Department established the Gendarmerie Aviation School Command in June 2013, and since then, it has consistently expanded its activities. We have increased the number of Instructor Pilots from a mere 12 to 48 during this period and simultaneously augmented the number of aircraft. Additionally, our initial pilot and technician training program, which began with just 7 trainees, has grown to accommodate 60 Pilots and 60 Technicians. As you know, the unfortunate coup attempt in our country in 2016 created significant human resource issues across the country, which also affected Gendarmerie Aviation. In response, our Aviation School rapidly took measures to increase pilot and technician sources. Consequently, we initiated the recruitment of university graduate Pilot and Technician candidates in 2017 without waiting for the graduation of Officer Pilot Candidates and Non-Commissioned Officer Technician Candidates from our existing schools and the Gendarmerie Academy. These candidates completed a one-year training program and graduated as Second Lieutenants (2Lt) and Staff Sergeants (SSG). Subsequently, after providing them with one more year of training, we recruited the first outsourced Pilots and Technicians in 2018, and they joined the Gendarmerie Aviation Department. This swift response somewhat alleviated the shortage of pilots and technicians across all military branches.

In 2022, Pilots and Technicians who graduated from the Academy after completing a five-year education started their training as Pilot and Technician Candidates in the Aviation Gendarmerie Aviation Department. As of today, we continue the training for the 11th Pilot and Technician Course. This year, we expect to graduate more than 20 Pilots and over 40 Technicians. Since 2017, our Gendarmerie Aviation School Command has been graduating candidates for other units of the Ministry of Interior, such as the Aviation Department of the General Directorate of Security and the Aviation Department of the Coast Guard, particularly for technician requirements. With our Basic Course, which will start this year, we will also train pilots for the Aviation Department of the General Directorate of Security and the Coast Guard for the first time. In addition to the Basic Courses for Pilots and Technicians, we offer training in 36 different branches, including UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) Pilots and Technicians. Starting this year, our Gendarmerie Aviation School Command will also fulfill the entire pilot and technician needs of the UAV Command. We have already begun conducting our first Basic Courses for this purpose.

Defence Turkey: What types of aircraft are used for Basic and Advanced Training at the Gendarmerie Aviation School Command? Could you provide information about this?

Major General Ali DOĞAN: Generally, pilots start their training with simple and small aircraft that allow them to showcase their capabilities and adapt to the helicopter. However, due to economic and technical issues, we encountered some difficulties in the training provided by other institutions in Türkiye. As a result, we extensively discussed with our Instructor Pilots whether we could initiate our Basic Course with our smallest aircraft, the AB-205/UH-1H Helicopter. Subsequently, we saw that the quality of the training provided is what matters! If you can ensure this quality, you can start the Basic Course with your largest aircraft. Based on this, we evaluated the smallest aircraft in our inventory, the AB-205/UH-1H Helicopter, by having our Instructor Pilots and some trainees experience it. Later on, we observed that trainees quickly adapted to the training. This is because, after UH-1, we transition to twin-engine aircraft in the Advanced Training. We conduct the first stage of the Helicopter Pilot Basic Course with the UH-1 and the second stage with S-70 and Mi-17 Helicopters by dividing the trainees. We noticed that graduates from our initial course now fly for 45 hours with the UH-1H instead of the 160 hours previously. Following that, they move on to twin-engine aircraft for Advanced Training Flights. We have observed our graduated pilots for the past year and received highly positive feedback from unit commanders. Currently, in our Basic Course, we start with the UH-1H and continue with twin-engine aircraft for the Advanced Training Flights. Thus, our trainees begin their service as pilots ready to operate directly on our S-70 and Mi-17 Helicopters. With this new plan, instead of graduating as a pilot in a single-engine aircraft and then transitioning to a twin-engine aircraft in the next stage, we save around 60 hours of twin-engine aircraft training and reduce costs as well.

Defence Turkey: Can you provide information about the ongoing modernization projects of the Gendarmerie Aviation Department?

Major General Ali DOĞAN: Our S-70 Helicopter Modernization Project, which is largely completed, is currently ongoing. Through this modernization, we have introduced the Gendarmerie Configuration of the S-70 Helicopter. How did this come about? In a joint effort with ASELSAN, we planned the modernization of avionic systems (cockpit avionics) and communication systems, which involve the modernization of radios, in two main phases. The avionic modernization is entirely finished, and the modernization of communication systems is nearing completion. 

Due to the mountainous terrain of the Turkish airspace, we experience communication problems. We have initiated another project to overcome this situation and establish telephone communication and improved communication between aircraft through radio messaging. This project is a collaborative effort between ASELSAN and TÜBİTAK. Currently, many existing systems rely on either GSM or satellite communication. With this project, we are working on a concept that simultaneously utilizes both GSM and satellite communication, enabling direct communication between a helicopter in İzmir and another in Hakkari, as well as tracking the movements of helicopters. This is a new and relatively unknown project. We have allocated resources to it. The project will be conducted in three phases, and the second phase is nearing completion. Hopefully, it will be completed soon. With this project, not only our inventory but all aircraft in Türkiye will gain an additional capability.

Another modernization project we have is for our Mi-17 Helicopters, but this one does not involve a project partner. This project is the Night Vision Conversion Project for Mi-17 Helicopters. Some helicopters only fly during the day, while others operate both during the day and at night. However, in terms of hardware, our helicopters did not permit flight with Night Vision Goggles (NVGs). This was due to various issues, such as non-NVG compatible lighting in the cockpit, controls not being positioned in front of the pilot, and warning lights not being organized properly. Although we could perform night flights with all our aircraft, we couldn't do so with the Mi-17 Helicopters. After 1,5 years of work, we brought together all our mechanical, electrical, electronic, structural, and Navigation Officers, Flight Instructors, and Maintenance Officers to develop a conversion project, and we realized that we could carry it out ourselves. We prepared the project without any external support. We identified our needs by answering all the questions of where, when, and how within this project. For example, we needed to make the 250 bulbs used for lighting inside the helicopter and six control buttons compatible with NVGs. The helicopter needed a radar altimeter, and there are many other details that I can't mention right now, but I'm focusing on the most important aspects. We completed this modification within a week with six technicians working on a single helicopter, making it compatible with NVGs for night flights. We are currently implementing this on the 15th helicopter.

With this project, we have made the Mi-17 Helicopters that couldn't fly at night for 27 years capable of night flights. Thanks be to God; we are very proud of our team. During the major earthquakes that affected 11 provinces on February 6, 2023, our Mi-17 Helicopters conducted 250 hours of night flights. The most significant feature of this helicopter is its spacious and tall cabin, allowing you to move around while standing. Two years ago, we implemented a project for the Mi-17 Helicopters, which was the first of its kind in Türkiye, aiming to be used in a potential earthquake scenario and to evacuate casualties. We established a stretcher system for the helicopters. I'd like to talk about this project as well. The project was entirely our own, and we collaborated with a company in Ankara's OSTİM that manufactures ambulance stretchers. This company installed a stretcher on a helicopter for the first time. They designed and carried out the project. Today, we have set up a three-story stretcher system in five Mi-17 Helicopters, capable of carrying 12 patients or casualties in one helicopter. Normally, the Mi-17 Helicopter could carry a maximum of four or five patients or casualties side by side. With this project, we evacuated more than 12 patients or casualties in one helicopter from the disaster area. We applied the same system to Sikorsky Helicopters. In the S-70, which has a smaller interior space and lower ceiling, we established a two-story stretcher system with a capacity of eight people. From the very moment of the earthquake, we evacuated more than 350 injured individuals (rescued from debris) using Sikorsky and Mi-17 Helicopters from Maraş, Hatay, and other affected provinces to nearby hospitals. This portable system can be set up in 20 minutes. We have it in all of our units. We can instantly mount it on all our helicopters. There's no need for a separate helicopter for this. In the aftermath of the earthquake, we used four helicopters solely with stretchers for the first three days. After the patient evacuation was completed, we dismantled the stretcher system in 20 minutes and used our helicopters to evacuate citizens and materials.

In this regard, this capability was of utmost importance. We used it for the first time; unfortunately, our foresight came true. Gendarmerie Aviation always operates with the principle of being there for the citizens' needs, at the right place and time, nearby, and ready to assist. When the time comes, we need to be ready for our duty. The Stretcher Project was initiated with this purpose in mind. It was a project that brought us reassurance, and it was a project that gave us the joy and pride of being there for our citizens. I would like to emphasize this point especially.

Defence Turkey: What can you share about the future procurement projects of the Gendarmerie Aviation Department?

Major General Ali DOĞAN: Deliveries are ongoing for the T-70 Project. As of today (July 31), we have received the third helicopter. In total, we will receive 33 helicopters within the project. Regarding training, as I mentioned before, we are currently using the UH-1. However, we also have plans to procure a Training Aircraft and a Training Helicopter. The priority is the Training Aircraft because we have been forming a fleet with an emphasis on fixed-wing aircraft in recent years. We have a jet-powered Command and Control Aircraft and three propeller-powered aircraft for reconnaissance and surveillance. Approximately 15% of our pilots are trained to operate fixed-wing aircraft, and they are actively flying. Therefore, we aim to provide Fixed-Wing Aircraft Pilot Training at our Aviation School. We have trained Fixed-Wing Aircraft Instructors, and we have Fixed-Wing Flight Examiners. Our Fixed-Wing Training Aircraft Procurement Project is currently a priority, and we consider this matter with great importance. Afterward, based on the current situation, we plan to initiate the Training Helicopter Project.

Defence Turkey: Sir, the Gendarmerie Aviation Department will be the first user of the T625 GÖKBEY Light Utility Helicopter, locally developed and produced by the Turkish Defence Industry. With the introduction of the GÖKBEY Helicopter into the inventory, what additional capabilities will the Gendarmerie Aviation gain?

Major General Ali DOĞAN: We have been a part of the GÖKBEY Project for approximately 3,5 years. The GÖKBEY Project was conceived by TUSAŞ, and from the moment we became aware of it about 3 years ago, we have been supporting this project. As I mentioned before, we have UH-1H helicopters in our inventory. These UH-1H helicopters will gradually be phased out in the coming years. Therefore, we need a Utility Helicopter that is smaller than the Mi-17 and Sikorsky Helicopters. As you know, the Gendarmerie covers 93% of Türkiye's land area, and we needed a helicopter that could transport a team or a Gendarmerie patrol to the farthest points. We decided to support the GÖKBEY Project for this purpose. We intend to use the GÖKBEY not only for transport missions but also for Search and Rescue (SAR) operations, given its smaller size compared to the S-70. We specifically requested that the Gendarmerie helicopters have EO/IR cameras (FLIR payload) and rescue hoists. We are closely collaborating with TUSAŞ. In the first helicopters we will receive, we have stated that these systems must be included and set this as a condition. TUSAŞ previously declared that the first GÖKBEY Helicopters produced would be delivered to the Gendarmerie. We want to be the ones receiving these helicopters because we have been together with TUSAŞ from the very beginning. The contract has been signed in this regard. We will take delivery of the first three helicopters produced under the project. It will be a source of great pride for us to fly these helicopters, which are entirely domestically produced. 

Defence Turkey: Sir, as you mentioned earlier, the Gendarmerie General Command serves 93% of Türkiye's land area and 30% of its population. Hence, the responsibilities of the Gendarmerie Aviation are extensive, and consequently, there is a need for numerous aerial vehicles. In recent months, a small rotary-wing Gyrocopter with Gendarmerie colors was seen in Ankara's skies, bringing public attention to the newly acquired Gyrocopters. Subsequently, they were exhibited at Teknofest Istanbul and IDEF '23 Fairs at the Gendarmerie Aviation booth. Compared to larger platforms, these aircraft have significantly lower acquisition, flight, and maintenance costs. What are the fundamental factors underlying the decision to procure these Gyrocopters, and what can you share about their usage concept within the Gendarmerie Aviation and your experience and impressions on Gyrocopters since their introduction? 

Major General Ali DOĞAN: Let me put it this way: In late 1988, S-70 Helicopters were delivered to the Gendarmerie General Command for the first time in Türkiye. Until that date, counter-terrorism efforts in Eastern and Southeastern Anatolia were carried out using AB-205/UH-1H Helicopters, which had been in service since the 1974 Cyprus Peace Operation. In 1994, Mi-17 Helicopters were added to our inventory. The aircraft in our inventory were primarily used for counter-terrorism operations regarding flight hours. However, particularly over the last 6-7 years, due to events like floods in Sinop, Bartın, Rize, and Düzce provinces, as well as wildfires in various regions of the country, including Antalya province, we accelerated the acquisition of new equipment for our aircraft to enhance our effectiveness in disaster response. In 2017, we initiated a project to equip our helicopters with new capabilities, with the goal of increasing our effectiveness in natural disaster response. We focused on acquiring rescue hoists for our aircraft and aimed to equip most of our helicopters with hoists, an indispensable tool and a crucial component of search and rescue operations. Today, in the Gendarmerie Aviation inventory, we have 6 Sikorsky and 5 Mi-17 Helicopters equipped with rescue hoists. We went from having zero systems of this kind to having 11 systems in our inventory. This August, we will procure 3 more hoist systems. The GÖKBEY Helicopters we will acquire will also be equipped with hoist systems. Another important payload is the EO/IR camera systems. If you are conducting a search and rescue operation, whether it's related to natural disasters, personnel rescue, mountain climbers lost in mountainous areas, or citizens lost in rural regions, you must utilize helicopters equipped with EO/IR cameras (FLIR) for these operations. Thermal cameras are used for search and rescue operations during both day and night flights.

At the same time, for the past four years, we have been conducting aerial traffic control operations. When we examined the 13 different tasks that the Gendarmerie's helicopters were capable of, we embarked on the idea of performing these tasks with a more cost-effective and simpler aircraft. This is because the flight and maintenance costs of S-70 and Mi-17 Helicopters are quite high. These helicopters are large, and the equipment they carry is naturally expensive.

Search and Rescue Operations consist of two main parts: search and rescue. The time you spend during an aerial search can be almost ten times longer than the time you allocate for the rescue phase. For instance, you may spend 10 hours searching from the air, and then it takes only 45 minutes to perform the actual rescue using a helicopter. Therefore, the rescue phase is relatively short. We thought, let's split the search and rescue mission into two parts and start with the aerial search. The search part involves not only searching for accident victims but also searching for drug cultivation areas, human traffickers engaged in illegal immigration, immigrants themselves, tracking criminals from the air and locating them, providing aerial security for VIPs, and ensuring the security of natural gas and oil pipelines from the air, among many other tasks. We needed a cost-effective aerial vehicle capable of performing these tasks and transmitting images from the air. We examined every flying vehicle that could meet these criteria. We discovered a small rotary-winged aircraft, a gyrocopter, which has amassed over 3 million flight hours and is used by more than 3,000 different users worldwide. We started examining the Gyrocopter about 2,5 years ago. This aircraft is used for recreational purposes in Türkiye and many parts of the world. We engaged with the representatives of this aircraft in Türkiye. After concluding our investigations, we procured these aircraft in February 2023. Initially, we acquired three aircraft and examined them. Before this, we conducted field studies with different vehicles but hadn't actively flown them. We trained Gyrocopter pilots from our existing fixed-wing and helicopter pilots using these three aircraft. Currently, we have over 16 Gyrocopter pilots and more than 28 Gyrocopter technicians. Our adaptation training is completed, and I proudly announce that we opened our first Adaptation Course at the Gendarmerie Aviation School and trained 6 pilots. We conducted our first traffic flights during the Eid al-Adha holiday in June this year. Since that day, we have also begun operations in the areas I mentioned earlier. The Gyrocopter was designed according to our specifications. The manufacturer outfitted the platform with various equipment according to our requests. Riot control is one of our important mission areas. In this context, we installed a high-decibel megaphone on the aircraft. Flying at an altitude of approximately 500 meters, people on the ground can easily hear your voice. Additionally, we added sirens with different tones. This also exerts pressure on people on the ground and draws attention. The aircraft has autopilot and navigation systems. So far, we have completed over 1,000 hours of flight with the Gyrocopter.

The cost of acquiring this aircraft is nearly 1/200th of the cost of acquiring a helicopter. The hourly flight cost is also around 1/200th of that of a helicopter. Therefore, it's very cost-effective. Responding to the "how" question can be a bit unclear in people's minds because they may not know the upper limit. While the hourly flight cost of a helicopter averages between US$3,500 and US$4,000, the Gyrocopter's cost is around US$35. A helicopter can stay in the air for a maximum of 2,5 hours, whereas this aircraft can remain airborne for 4 to 6 hours, depending on the weather conditions. This is significant to us because endurance (flight duration) is one of the most important advantages of an aircraft. Additionally, we fly with a single pilot along with a Payload Operator, also known as a Camera Operator, or depending on the nature of the mission, these personnel can change. Helicopters must be flown with two certified pilots, whereas a Gyrocopter requires only one pilot. Thus, you can fly two different Gyrocopters with two pilots. In this regard, there are many advantages. It can easily ascend up to 12,000 feet. It has an average cruising speed of 80 knots, and its wind resistance limits are quite high. This is the biggest advantage compared to UAVs. It can take off in crosswinds of up to 25 knots and headwinds of up to 40 knots. UH-1H Helicopters can't take off under these conditions, but the Gyrocopter can. Currently, all three of our Gyrocopters are flying actively. We plan to acquire an additional 5 Gyrocopters within this year. This will bring our total Gyrocopter count to 8. We will also consider optional additional purchases. It only takes 10 hours for airplane pilots and 15 hours for helicopter pilots to become certified Gyrocopter pilots. They already have a pilot background. To fly a Gyrocopter, you obtain an Ultralight Pilot License. The ability to transport the Gyrocopter by road to the desired location independently of weather conditions is also a significant aspect.

Defence Turkey: Could you elaborate on your goals and expectations for the future of Turkish Gendarmerie Aviation? You have closely followed technological advancements in this process that began with the Gyrocopter and have invested considerable effort in acquiring new capabilities. With various types and models of manned and unmanned fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft currently in the inventory of Turkish Gendarmerie Aviation, is there a need for new types of aerial vehicles in the upcoming period? Do you plan to establish new fleets in different regions of the country alongside these new acquisitions? 

Major General Ali DOĞAN: The primary mission of Gendarmerie Aviation has historically been focused on counter-terrorism efforts and ensuring public safety and order through flights, a mission that began in the 1990s. In recent years, our flight operations have significantly increased. Gendarmerie Aviation maintains an annual average of approximately 20,000 flight hours, which is quite substantial. The increased flight operations, particularly related to law enforcement, crime prevention, firefighting, and disaster relief efforts, constitute around 20-25% of this annual flight time. We anticipate that these flight operations will further increase in the coming years. Therefore, we aim to reduce our reaction times as Gendarmerie Aviation serves across every corner of Türkiye, and we aspire to enhance our institution with this vision. In this context, we have a fleet project in the Mediterranean region. Additionally, we are considering establishing a Gendarmerie Aviation Fleet in the Black Sea region. Following the establishment of these fleets, we are contemplating opening another fleet in or near İstanbul. Our aircraft inventory has diversified. Notably, after 2017, our fixed-wing aircraft fleet was established. Before 2017, we did not possess attack helicopters, but today we have ATAK Helicopters. The procurement of ATAK Helicopters will continue. Plans were devised for each year, leading to the need to establish a larger unit in Eastern and Southeastern Anatolia. As a result, we decided to establish a Gendarmerie Aviation Base in Elazığ. Our organizational structure is based on the Group system, where a Group corresponds to the level of a Regiment. However, our planning for Elazığ surpasses the size of a Group. Our UAVs are already present in Elazığ. We are referring to a significant Gendarmerie Aviation Base Project in Elazığ, where our UAV Command is located, along with our aircraft, ATAK Helicopters, and Utility Helicopters. This project is progressing rapidly. Consequently, within the next four years, we will increase the number of our existing aircraft inventory by 50%. Our plans are aligned with this expansion. As a result, we will increase the number of our pilots and flight personnel by 100%. Our human resource project is complete, and our annual procurement purchases are ongoing. Pilot and Technician training efforts continue. The number of our pilots will reach 450, and the number of our technicians will reach 512. While we also have a fixed-wing procurement project, the bulk of this capacity increase will mainly be through rotary-wing platforms. If you wonder why we emphasize rotary-wing platforms, it's due to Türkiye's mountainous geography. Even if you use fixed-wing aircraft, you still need to transport your personnel to the mission area using rotary-wing platforms.

Defence Turkey: The Gendarmerie General Command was also joined in the Liaison and Utility Aircraft Procurement Project, conducted by the Defence Industry Agency (SSB) to meet the needs of the Land Forces Command and the General Directorate of Security for rapid transportation of units with their equipment and materials over long distances regardless of meteorological conditions. Can you provide information about the current status of the project, the planned number of aircraft to be procured, and the involvement of the Gendarmerie Aviation? While a requirement of 6 aircraft has been defined for the Land Forces Command and 3 aircraft for the General Directorate of Security, the number of Liaison and Utility Aircraft to be procured for the Gendarmerie Aviation has not been publicly disclosed.

Major General Ali DOĞAN: One of the most crucial necessities during disaster situations, as exemplified by our recent experience with earthquakes, is the swift transportation of personnel to disaster-stricken areas. Beyond climate-related disasters such as floods and fires, Türkiye also encounters devastating earthquakes. Furthermore, a significant task of Gendarmerie Aviation is counter-terrorism. Thus, the timing, location, and atmospheric conditions for personnel transport remain uncertain. Particularly in scenarios with poor visibility and cold weather conditions, helicopter mobility can be hindered. The immediate deployment of Gendarmerie Search and Rescue (JAK) personnel and the Special Units of Gendarmerie Special Public Security Command (JÖAK) might be imperative. Consequently, after the studies carried out in 2019, we decided to join the project. We became part of the project with the decision to acquire 2+1 aircraft. We consider the Utility Aircraft an essential asset and capability for the Ministry of Interior. This project, overseen by the Defense Industry Agency (SSB), is currently ongoing.

Defence Turkey: Could you provide information about the role and usage concept of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) within the Gendarmerie Aviation?

Major General Ali DOĞAN: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) play a pivotal role in reconnaissance and field surveillance. Armed UAVs, equipped with various munitions, are particularly crucial for neutralizing terrorists. I would like to emphasize this point specifically when considering the development of the Turkish Defence Industry, especially the capabilities we have gained in the field of UAVs in past years; as a pilot engaged in counter-terrorism operations, I find the progress we have made incredibly gratifying. In the early 2000s, we fought terrorism using two or three leased UAVs. We encountered situations where the provider did not offer support due to technical malfunctions, sometimes lasting 15 days or a month, and we were unable to monitor the field. Today, I can assure you that the entirety of Türkiye's high-risk regions within its airspace is under continuous surveillance by UAVs 24/7. If we can express the number of terrorists in small numbers and if our country has achieved stability and prosperity in counter-terrorism efforts, it owes a significant debt to the contribution of UAVs and Armed UAVs.

When we evaluate the current global situation, it's evident that numerous regions are experiencing conflicts, ranging from minor to major and even extending to regional wars. Holding air superiority is a defining factor on the battlefield. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and Armed UAVs have demonstrated their successes in Türkiye and many other countries and regions, receiving applause, particularly from the victims of conflict worldwide. In Türkiye, we have been conducting flights with indigenous UAV platforms since 2017. I believe that Gendarmerie Aviation alone has accounted for a third of the total UAV flights in Türkiye, as we have reached a notable figure of approximately 170,000 flight hours with UAVs. However, I am pleased to emphasize that UAVs and Armed UAVs are not solely used in counter-terrorism operations. Within our scope of responsibilities, Gendarmerie UAVs are actively engaged in various tasks across all regions of our country, including combating human trafficking, monitoring forest fires, tracking criminals, and conducting traffic control, ranging from İzmir to Hakkari, from Trabzon to Hatay. Our Gendarmerie UAV fleet is quite robust, and we continue our efforts to procure new UAVs. We maintain continuous communication with the Defense Industry Agency (SSB). We have UAV bases in different regions. Our westernmost base is in Aydın, and our project to establish UAV bases in various locations across the western region is ongoing.

Furthermore, aside from Tactical UAVs, we have approximately 3,500 drone systems of various sizes in our inventory. Our Gendarmerie Commands actively employ UAVs in crime prevention and law enforcement efforts. We closely monitor developments in UAV technology. I tend not to use the term "Sub-Cloud UAV" because UAVs operating on the Line-of-Sight (LoS) principle can descend to any altitude within their line of sight, encompassing low altitudes as well. Hence, I refer to them as low or very-low-altitude UAVs, or more precisely, as Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) UAVs. Although recent advancements may involve catapult-launched UAVs, the focus has been more on VTOL technology. Our procurement projects align with this direction, and we meticulously monitor these advancements. We maintain close collaborations, primarily with domestic companies, as well as with numerous other firms.

Defence Turkey: Gendarmerie Aviation personnel demonstrate their experience and skills in helicopter operations as the Gendarmerie Steel Wings Helicopter Display Team. Celebrating its 5th year, Steel Wings, Türkiye's first and only helicopter display team, established its place among flight display teams with their performance during the 50th anniversary of Gendarmerie Aviation. Could you briefly introduce the Steel Wings Helicopter Display Team to our readers?

Major General Ali DOĞAN: The Steel Wings flight demonstration team commenced its activities in Türkiye for the first time in 2018. Across the world, many countries host fixed-wing flight demonstration teams. However, helicopter display teams that have established themselves and become well-known are relatively scarce. Particularly in Türkiye, there were no established brands or helicopters performing scheduled displays. In 2018, during the 50th anniversary of Gendarmerie Aviation's establishment, the idea to form a helicopter display team, named "Çelik Kanatlar" (Steel Wings), emerged following a suggestion from one of our colleagues. This led us to contemplate whether we could accomplish this, and if so, with whom and how we could do it. Subsequently, in 2018, the Çelik Kanatlar Helicopter Flight Demonstration Team was established, utilizing our capabilities and expertise, with the objective of bringing aircraft closer to citizens' view from afar, as I mentioned earlier. Aiming to integrate Gendarmerie Aviation's extensive experience with over 500,000 flight hours and capabilities with helicopters, we created this unique demonstration team. Its inaugural flight took place in 2018, which garnered considerable media attention. Subsequently, we started receiving requests for displays during various events across Türkiye, such as Sarıkamış, the Liberation of İzmir, and August 30 Victory Day, marking significant national days. With the approval of our esteemed Commander of the Gendarmerie General, today, the Çelik Kanatlar flight demonstration team participates in more than 11 different events annually throughout our country, including prominent venues like Teknofest. As a brand, our Çelik Kanatlar team engages with our citizens through captivating flight displays at different times and locations. We take pride in this accomplishment. In fact, during exhibitions, young children frequently ask about Çelik Kanatlar, wish to take photos and ask for autographed posters. Our happiness is further amplified by the fact that we are able to stand alongside our citizens in achieving these goals.

Defence Turkey: Could you provide information about the position of the Gendarmerie Aviation Department among international Gendarmerie aviation organizations? Türkiye/Gendarmerie General Command joined the FIEP in 1998 (International Association of Gendarmeries and Police Forces with Military Status), which was founded in 1994 with the acronym representing the initial letters of its founding countries (France-Italia-España-Portugal). Could you evaluate the contributions of this membership to Gendarmerie Aviation?

Major General Ali DOĞAN:  Considering the diversity and quantity of aircraft within the fleet of Gendarmerie Aviation Department, along with the number of pilots and technicians for their operation and maintenance, it is evident that Gendarmerie Aviation constitutes a significantly sizable unit numerically. On a global scale, examining various countries shows that many lack a Gendarmerie Aviation unit. While they might not be named "Gendarmerie," law enforcement forces in different countries carry out similar duties and responsibilities under different titles. Often, these countries predominantly rely on aircraft from their police forces or those under the Ministry of Defence. However, the situation in Türkiye is somewhat different. Due to the primary responsibility and role of counter-terrorism falling under the Ministry of Interior, Gendarmerie Aviation has evolved as an institution with its 55 years of history. As I previously mentioned, numerous aircraft were initially introduced into the inventory of the Gendarmerie General Command. Over time, owing to diverse operational requirements, the numbers and types of fixed and rotary-wing aircraft increased and diversified. Our most recent addition includes the Gyrocopters. From this perspective, when examining the diversity of aircraft and the personnel required to operate them, it is evident that the Gendarmerie Aviation Department, including FIEP countries, is a larger institution compared to the Gendarmeries of many other nations. I can state this with complete clarity.

The relationships with the Gendarmerie law enforcement forces of FIEP member countries continue to thrive. Particularly during FIEP meetings, we have the opportunity to engage with aviation representatives from those nations. We have also visited FIEP member countries. Each country possesses distinct areas of expertise, mostly aligned with its economic strengths. For instance, European countries have mountainous, elevated, and snowy terrains intersecting their borders, fostering stronger relationships between them. They have specialized in these areas. When we come together, they express their curiosity about how we conduct flights in counter-terrorism operations and manage these missions, leading to numerous inquiries. Notably, we have been actively engaged in forest fires in recent years. They mention that they follow our operations through their national and international media outlets and ask about our strategies for fighting forest fires. From the requests we've received, it's apparent that four countries are seeking Pilot and Technician Training from us, specifically related to helicopter use in wildfires. These inquiries primarily come from Turkish Republics rather than European countries. European nations, however, primarily follow us through the media. Currently, European countries are somewhat reserved, but we are also gradually establishing contact with them. There was a significant fire on the island of Rhodes. The deployment of two aircraft and one helicopter to Rhodes held great significance. I can confidently state this. The visits of aviation units foster ongoing collaboration with FIEP countries, encompassing both technology and training. We explore ways to collaborate and exchange experiences, further strengthening these ties.

Defence Turkey: Can you provide an assessment of the performance and contributions of the Gendarmerie Aviation Department following the Kahramanmaraş earthquakes that affected 11 provinces?

Major General Ali DOĞAN: I am stating this unequivocally: if you do not adapt your capabilities and duties to the changing times, you will never be deemed necessary and will be forgotten. Especially considering that we have a structure that heavily occupies the state's budget. Both owning and operating aircraft are exceedingly costly endeavors. The fight against terrorism in the country has reached a certain level; instead of stepping aside and saying that our duty is over, we embarked on a path to determine how we can utilize our aerial assets more effectively. We asked ourselves how we could contribute to climate-related disasters, post-earthquake rescue, and evacuation operations. On February 6, 2023, during the earthquake that struck Kahramanmaraş and affected nearby provinces, the Gendarmerie Aviation Department dispatched a total of 42 aircraft and 353 personnel, including 36 Utility Helicopters, 2 Manned Airborne ISR Aircraft, and 4 UAVs. Between February 6 and May 5, 2023, a total of 1,750 Search and Rescue (SAR) personnel aided 950 earthquake-stricken citizens, among whom 500 were injured. They airlifted 892 tons of food and essential supplies, 1,500 kg of medication, 3,500 tents, 10,000 blankets, heaters, generators, and SAR equipment. The operations encompassed 2,300 flight hours (4,700 sorties), with 250 hours (750 sorties) conducted at night.

Defence Turkey: Would you like to add anything in the way of a message for our readers?

Major General Ali DOĞAN: The Gendarmerie General Command Aviation Department actively engages in recovery efforts in the wake of natural disasters such as fires, earthquakes, and floods within our country. Our responsibilities extend to aerial traffic control, as well as the identification of illicit crop monitoring. We are continuously committed to these pursuits. We aspire to have all our young individuals who hold an affection for both Gendarmerie and aviation by our side, serving as companions on this journey. As the Gendarmerie General Command Aviation Department, we stand unwaveringly by our nation and are ever ready to provide assistance!

Defence Turkey: Sir, thank you for sparing your valuable time for our readers.