“We Will Deliver AKSUNGUR to Our Forces by Year End, with its Wide Range of Weapon Integration Options”

A Defence Turkey interview with Temel KOTİL, President and CEO of Turkish Aerospace (TUSAŞ) during the TEKNOFEST Istanbul Aviation, Space and Technology Festival, Turkey`s largest technology festival held on September 17-22, 2019, at Ataturk Airport.

Issue 96

Defence Turkey: As a start, could you please evaluate the TEKNOFEST Festival and TUSAS’ participation in the event, which was held for the first-time last year and attracted more than 500,000 visitors?

Temel KOTİL: TEKNOFEST's brand value is increasing every year. It is Turkey’s largest Technology, Aviation and Space Festival.  Within the scope of the festival, many award-winning competitions were held, and the awards were presented to the winners by Recep Tayyip ERDOĞAN, President of the Republic of Turkey. We, as Turkish Aerospace, received the best Patent Award in the field of patents.

Defence Turkey: For which product was this award received?

Temel KOTİL: We have developed a computer/software system for aircraft avionics. It can now be used in military projects, and later for commercial projects. We are here with many products; our National Combat Aircraft, GÖKBEY and Heavy Class Attack Helicopter and our Unmanned Aerial Vehicles ANKA and AKSUNGUR. For the time being, the firing tests of AKSUNGUR UAV have been conducted and we will deliver it to our Forces by the end of year with its wide range of weapon integration options.

Defence Turkey: How many AKSUNGUR MALE UAV prototypes are currently in-flight tests?  

Temel KOTİL: There are two prototypes. The production activities for the third one is currently ongoing. At the moment we are performing live firing tests with these two flyable prototypes. We integrate them and conduct laser-guided or GPS-guided firing tests. With each passing day, we are proceeding from mock-up to the prototype stage and then to production stage.

Defence Turkey: During TEKNOFEST, you showcase many of your products. What is the status of these national products in the export market? As far as we know, negotiations for the ATAK Helicopter were occurring with Pakistan. 

Temel KOTİL: Negotiations with Pakistan still continue. Turkey now produces its own engines.  The Turkish Defense Industry improves it with every passing day. Therefore, we will be able to see that the national products in the portfolio of Turkish Aerospace are sold everywhere, very soon.

Defence Turkey: What about the National Combat Aircraft? It was unveiled at the Paris Air Show and now it is displayed at TEKNOFEST. What is the status of the activities? Is the schedule you declared in Paris still valid?

Temel KOTİL: Yes, it is still the same. It will be rolled out in 2023 and the maiden flight will be performed in 2025. Ground tests will take two years and then we'll see it in the sky in 2025. We'll deliver it in 2029, there’s no change in the schedule.

Defence Turkey: How many prototypes will there be? Previously, a total of 7 prototypes were declared, 6 for flight and 1 for ground, but in Paris the figure was also mentioned to be 5?

Temel KOTİL: An increase in the number of prototypes is not that critical. For example, we increased the number of prototypes of GÖKBEY in order to deliver it at an earlier time. The important thing is to take it aloft.

Defence Turkey: Another issue in national aircraft development efforts is the availability of qualified human resources.  After all, there is human labor behind this type of program. It is not always easy to find qualified individuals because Aviation is indeed the highest level of science.

Temel KOTİL: We don’t have any difficulties in finding new graduates. We employ 1,000 engineers per year, and we prefer those with at least a 3.0 GPA. We're employing Turkey’s qualified individuals and we are aware of it. So far, I have employed 2,500 engineers. The new graduates cannot directly start to work in production and the problem starts here. There is no problem in Turkey in finding staff; you can find them from every discipline, from electronics to aircraft, but these people don’t have experience with "on-the-job training". The first 1,000 people we employed are about to complete their second year, and after five years they will be experienced engineers. So, the answer to your question is that Turkey acquires human resources from new graduates, but we have an experienced staff shortage since we have to complete and deliver the products in the meantime. For example, AKSUNGUR was completed in a very short time. Why? Because the center body was built on ANKA, and we will not sell it as more expensive than ANKA. It's easy to put something on it when you've done it before. Turkish Aerospace has spent many years on the ATAK helicopter. The Heavy Class Attack Helicopter is being developed very fast, as it was with GÖKBEY. Turkish Aerospace has a core staff, but it needs time to scale it. We are acquiring people from abroad who have experience in the development and manufacture of a Combat Aircraft, in other words supersonic aircraft, because there is no other way.

Defence Turkey: A handshake was made with the British company BAE Systems for providing technical support under the National Combat Aircraft Project, wasn’t it?

Temel KOTİL: Don't take this as technical support, money talks here, there’s a market. When you pay enough salary, you can employ the most qualified and experienced experts. For instance, there was a person from Florida, U.S. who was supporting us in GÖKBEY, an elderly person, but a master in helicopters, coming to us as a consultant. We sat down and had a chat. I said, “Thank you very much, you have come and are helping us at your seasoned age, and he said, “I thank you for hiring me at this age”. What I mean here, they all have a market. We can bring people to Turkey that have in-depth knowhow, and especially those retired with expertise. There is no “impossible” in technology, but we need to be as bold as brass and daring, and we have shown this courage.

Defence Turkey: There was also an issue in the press in recent weeks about AKSUNGUR's jet-engine powered brother.  What would you like to share with us on this project?

Temel KOTİL: Yes, we're trying to achieve supersonic flight right now. Now, our first goal in unmanned systems is to achieve supersonic speed. Instead of going supersonic with the National Combat Aircraft, we will go supersonic primarily with an unmanned system in a year. Activities for subsonic still continue, but we will achieve supersonic speed. We will produce HÜRJET to pave the way for the National Combat Aircraft. HÜRJET is also supersonic and will be able to reach Mach 1.4. It will make its maiden flight in 2022.

Defence Turkey: There was an agreement about that, on the engine for HÜRJET at the Paris Air Show, is that right?

Temel KOTİL: That's right, those activities are in progress. We are currently aiming to complete the subsystem procurement of HÜRJET. When the subsystem, the engine, etc., is completed, it means most of the work is almost done, and then the production stage will start. HÜRJET will make a surprise!

Defence Turkey: A preliminary protocol was made for HÜRJET with the Turkish Air Force Command. During the ADEX Fair, it was stated that the Azerbaijan Air & Air Defense Force Command was showing close interest in both HÜRKUŞ and HÜRJET.

Temel KOTİL: We started our marketing efforts for our indigenous products around the globe even when they were at the beginning of their design & development phase, but it takes time to achieve real sales. Our first customer is always Turkey, and this is actually a rule. Our primary focus is to produce these products better than their competitors in terms of procurement cost and performance, then the rest comes.

Defence Turkey: Would you like to convey any messages to our readers?

Temel KOTİL: As our President of the Republic of Turkey said, Turkey is self-sufficient in this regard. We hire new graduates and maybe we wait for three years, but we achieve in raising them to produce aircraft. We establish large laboratories in this field in Turkey, wind tunnels and facilities for lightning tests. We manage to solve challenges regarding both physical infrastructure and human infrastructure. After 10 years, Turkey will become a major player in the “aerospace” field and will be one of three or four countries excelling in this field