The MAISR Aircraft has Achieved 15,000 Hours With Maintenance and Operation Support from Turkish Aerospace

In the 118th issue of Turkish Aerospace/TUSAŞ Magazine, it was reported that 15,0000 flight hours had been completed with 8 Beechcraft King Air 350 Manned Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (MAISR) Aircraft in service of the Turkish Land Forces Command and Gendarmerie General Command, which the company provides maintenance and operational support.

Date: Issue 103 - January 2021

Beechcraft King Air 350 MAISR Aircraft, which are maintained and supported by TUSAŞ Logistics Services, were deployed at Tulga Barracks in Malatya, and according to the information in the Magazine, they carried out 3,031 sorties in total. Ground Data Terminals at 18 different locations and Remote Display Terminals in 27 different regions were also actively used during the mentioned sorties. A photograph of one of the King Air 350i MAISR Aircraft of the Gendarmerie General Command was also shared in the Magazine. 

Apart from the Turkish Land Forces and Gendarmerie, the Police Aviation Department also operates Beechcraft King Air 350 MAISR aircraft. However, it seems that TUSAŞ does not provide logistics support for the aircraft in service of the Police Aviation Department. The Presidency of Defence Industries initiated the Emergency Manned Reconnaissance Aircraft Logistics Support (AİKU-2) Project to provide domestic logistics support for 5 Beechcraft King Air 350ER MAISR Aircraft and related ground support elements in service of the Turkish Land Forces and released a Request for Proposal (RFP) only for domestic companies in early July 2018. It seems that TUSAŞ took the lead in the project, and following their lease/service procurement expiration, 3 King Air 350i aircraft of the Gerdermarie General Command were also later added to the project, which started in the second half of 2018.

Manned Airborne ISR Aircraft of the TAF and Security Forces: King Air 350

Fighting the PKK terrorist organization for more than 30 years, Turkey leased five second-hand Manned Airborne ISR Aircraft based on the Beechcraft King Air 350ER from Santay Aviation under the contract signed on May 3, 2012, to support the MALE (Medium-Altitude Long-Endurance) Class Heron UAVs in the inventory. Although the King Air 350ER ISR Aircraft, leased for two years for US$70 million under the Manned Airborne ISR Aircraft Leasing (20,000 flight hours in total/4,000 hours per plane) Project (named KİKU) initiated by SSM in 2011, were planned to be delivered to Turkey by May 2012, the first aircraft could only be brought to Turkey on July 14, 2012. In a written statement published on July 16, 2012, the Ministry of National Defence stated that the first aircraft would officially be commissioned after the test flights, and the other aircraft will be delivered by October. The first King Air 350ER MAISR aircraft was used operationally for the first time in Hakkari between October 30 and November 9, 2012. The other four aircraft, which were held at Canadian customs for a long time due to export procedures, could only be delivered in the first half of 2013.

Used as a complementary element to the UAV platforms in counter-terrorism operations, the Beechcraft King Air 350ER MAISR aircraft provide higher situational awareness compared to UAVs since the pilots can see the operations area with their own eyes. Additionally, the images obtained by the onboard FLIR System can also be instantly evaluated on the aircraft, unlike UAV systems, and after being exploited, the intelligence can be transmitted to the combat elements on the ground via radio, SatCom and data link/downlink systems. According to the product leaflet, the Beechcraft King Air 350ER aircraft can return to the base with 45 minutes of backup fuel after approximately 8 hours of surveillance/reconnaissance flight over a mission area 100nm away from the main base. For 24-hour uninterrupted surveillance of a single mission zone, three aircraft must be on flight alternately while the other two planes remain on the ground as backups.

The Manned Airborne ISR Aircraft Leasing Project (KİKU) was also planned as a complete service procurement, including a comprehensive logistics support package to keep all systems ready for duty 24/7, including the Ground Data Terminal, Remote Display Terminal, and Image Distribution and Storage System. The cost of a two-year logistics support package for the aircraft was also included in the US$70 million deal. The conversion of the second-hand King Air 350ER planes to the ISR configuration was carried out by the L-3 Company's Mission Integration Department in the USA. I believe that mission equipment on the aircraft, such as L-3 Wescam product FLIR System (MX-15D with Laser Designator), long-range air-to-air/air-to-ground radios, and the SatCom system, are based on customer-specific requirements. According to the news in the Turkish media, one of the King Air 350ER MAISR Aircraft served as both an airborne relay station and a command control center to the Turkish soldiers during a 12-hour long firefight with PKK militants in April 2015, which took place at a location where radio communication could not be provided in Ağrı Province and thanks to successful coordination provided by the aircraft, the terrorist group had to flee to Iran after suffering six casualties. The news also stated that a Ground Image Exploitation Station was also used with the plane during the operation. Operated by Turkish Land Forces pilots, these planes were deployed in Malatya.

The 20,000-flight hour leasing/service procurement period of the King Air 350ER MAISR Aircraft, which successfully served against the PKK terrorist organization during Internal Security Operations, expired at the end of September 2015. According to the Ministry of National Defense 2017 Annual Report, a 36-month or 25,000 Flight Hour Service Agreement was signed for five aircraft on May 24, 2016.  Under the US$80 million contract, the MAISR aircraft would be donated to the TAF at the end of the term.

The Presidency of Defense Industries signed the Urgent Manned Reconnaissance Aircraft Project (AİKU) on July 25, 2016, to provide the Gendarmerie General Command with similar reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities received under the MAISR Aircraft Leasing (KİKU) Project, which was signed in 2012 to meet the reconnaissance and surveillance needs of the Land Forces Command. Within the AİKU project's scope, reconnaissance and surveillance missions were planned to be conducted as a service procurement with 3 King Air 350i MAISR aircraft that are ready for duty 24/7. The Gendarmerie General Command started to fly missions with King Air 350i MAISR aircraft in the last quarter of 2016, and the planes were later transferred to the Command's inventory after the leasing period. In 2017, it was planned to arm the MAISR aircraft in service of the Turkish Land Forces and Gendarmerie General Command to detect and neutralize hostile elements simultaneously, but this study was not continued later. In his speech at the Gendarmerie General Command Change of Command Ceremony on August 21, 2017, Interior Minister Süleyman SOYLU stated that 6 Bayraktar UAVs, two of which are armed, and 3 Manned Reconnaissance Aircraft were delivered to the Gendarmerie. He also shared that a Command Control Aircraft, which would start its flights as of July, was also purchased and said: "From January 1 until today, 58 targets and 116 shelters have been detected by the Gendarmerie Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Reconnaissance Aircraft, and a total of 244 terrorists have been neutralized, 51 of which were eliminated by drones directly and 173 of which were detected by UAVs and MAISR aircraft." According to Gendarmerie General Command 2017, 2018, and 2019 Annual Reports, the MAISR Aircraft operated a total of 4,535 hours in 2017, 4,427 hours in 2018, and 1,630 hours in 2019.

Two King Air 350i MAISR Aircraft were purchased under the Multi-Role Reconnaissance and Surveillance Aircraft Procurement Project to enable the Turkish National Police to take a more active role in the fight against crime and criminals. According to the informational notice sent to the Presidency of Defense Industries on November 21, 2013, the plan was to procure a total of three King Air 350i Aircraft for the Police Aviation Department, two in ISR configuration and one in utility configuration to transport senior government officials and to use during emergency deployments. 

The Police Aviation Department received the first King Air 350i MAISR Aircraft EM-808 (FL-808/N8148W, 2012 production) in May 2013. The aircraft, which was sold, transferred, controlled, and inspected by Beechcraft Turkey Representative Koçoğlu Aviation and its authorized maintenance center Skyline Aviation, is used in the fight against crime and criminals, public security, counter-terrorism, riot control, intelligence gathering, traffic control, and reconnaissance and surveillance. The King Air 350i MAISR Aircraft, which is powered by two turboprop engines and capable of being used on a 24/7 basis, has advanced FLIR (Star SAFIRE 380-HD without Laser Designator), downlink (can transmit up to 100km), and navigation systems. The plane can carry two pilots and nine passengers and has a maximum speed of 580km/h. According to the product brochure, the King Air 350i MAISR Aircraft has a maximum range of 2,800km, can stay in the air for more than five hours, and operate at an altitude of about 11km (35,000ft). It is stated that the King Air 350i Aircraft was purchased for US$10 million. 

Like the first aircraft, Sierra Nevada Corporation carried out structural modification and system integration activities in the USA to convert the second aircraft to ISR configuration. The acceptance process of the second King Air 350i MAISR Aircraft of the Police Aviation Department was completed in the first half of 2016. In addition to the Star SAFIRE 380-HD FLIR System (can identify a human-sized object from 14 miles/23km), the second aircraft is also equipped with an airborne Communications Intelligence (COMINT)/Direction Finding (DF) System and Thales product I-MASTER GMTI/MMTI/SAR Radar. Today, a modern airborne DF system can detect a land-based hostile element that broadcasts electromagnetic waves with 5-meter accuracy. The Ku-Band I-Master GMTI/MMTI/SAR Radar weighs only 30kg and has 360-degree coverage day and night in all weather conditions. The radar can obtain the images of land and surface targets from a range of 35km at low resolution (3m) and 27km at high resolution (30cm) at +10/-55 degree viewing angles. The I-Master Radar, with GMTI (Ground Moving Target Indicator), MMTI (Maritime Moving Target Indicator), and SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) capabilities, is placed inside a 15-inch diameter EO/IR sensor turret. According to the product brochure, the I-Master Radar provides GMTI and MMTI images simultaneously and can scan an area of over 800 km² per hour in SAR Mode and detect vehicle and human movements on the ground from a maximum range of 20 km in GMTI Mode. 

It is evaluated that there are three MAISR aircraft in service of the Police Aviation Department as of May 2018. During his speech at the Ministry of Interior Budget Meeting held on November 15, 2017, Minister of Interior Süleyman SOYLU stated that the Turkish National Police operates MAISR aircraft, 9 UAVs, and 2 UCAVs, and added that they planned to purchase 2 MAISR aircraft, 9 UAVs, and 3 UCAVs. To strengthen security measures, 74 Helicopters, 18 UAVs, 6 MAISR aircraft (3 Gendarmerie and 3 Army), 6,064 Armored Vehicles, and 765 TOMA Anti-Riot Vehicles were planned to be on duty both on election day and during the campaign period.

The first King Air 350i aircraft of the Police Aviation Department equipped with the Thales product I-MASTER GMTI/MMTI/SAR Radar crashed on Mount Artos in Van's Gevaş District on July 15, 2020, at an altitude of 2,200m and 7 police officers, 2 of which were pilots died in the accident