Vestel is one of the biggest brands in Turkey, known for its electronic home appliances. In 2003 the company entered the defense industry with the establishment of Vestel Defense Industries. Two decades later, in 2022, it changed the name of the subsidiary to Lentatek.
The insufficient support Vestel Defense Industries received in Turkey from the Presidency of the Defense Industry (SSB) was also crucial to Vestel’s decision. Although the Karayel Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) developed by Vestel has similar specifications to Baykar Defense’s TB-2 UAV, it was not included in the Turkish Armed Forces’ (TSK) inventory. Because the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan supported Baykar, many of the Turkish Air Force’s (THK) UAV needs have been provided by Baykar, and Vestel was unable to obtain a contract from the TSK. However, Lentatek seems to be back in the game with its new product, the Kargı. So, what will the Kargı do, what functions will it have and what capabilities will it bring to the THK?
Kargı can be called a loitering munition, a type of UAV to engage beyond line-of-sight ground targets, radar installations and mobile missile launchers with an explosive warhead. Loitering munitions are often portable; many are meant to provide ground units such as infantry with a guided precision munition. They are equipped with high-resolution electro-optical and infrared cameras that enable the controller to locate, surveil and guide the vehicle to the target. A defining characteristic of loitering munitions is the ability to “loiter” in the air for an extended period of time before striking, giving the controller time to decide when and what to strike.
The Kargı, a loitering munitions project, was launched in 2015 to meet the needs of the THK. The prototype of the Kargı was exhibited for the first time at the Defense Industry Exhibition in Seferi-Hisar, İzmir, in June 2022 as part of the Efes-2022 exercise.
Kargı is a very large project involving Lentatek as the prime contractor, along with ASELSAN, TÜBİTAK SAGE (Defense Industries Research and Development Institute, also called Turkish DARPA) and TEI (a partner company of TAI for producing engines). The engine used in the Kargı, the PG-50, is manufactured by TEI; the RF (radio frequency) seeker ASELSAN and the warhead TÜBİTAK SAGE. The ground systems, navigation and automatic flight control system and system software development were carried out by Lentatek.
Following the successful completion of test flights, Kargı is ready to enter government acceptance testing, which consists of testing the system to determine if Kargı can meet the requirements of the TSK. With this acceptance, Kargı will be considered qualified. Once the prototype system is delivered, a separate contract is expected to be signed. The Kargı will initially replace the Harpy drone systems that entered into service in 2002 and are now nearing the end of their useful life.
The THK in 2002 purchased 80 Harpy Loitering munitions from Israeli company IAE for $108 million, to be used for SEAD (suppression of enemy air defense) and DEAD (destruction of enemy air defense) missions. The Harpy is a radar-hunting drone with a passive RF signal detection sensor and antennas on its wings. In loitering mode, it flies to a predetermined target area and enters a search pattern for a pre-programmed radar frequency at a specific altitude. When a particular radar is activated, the Harpy dives onto the radar station’s antenna and destroys the radar with its explosive bomb.
However, the THK could not get the desired efficiency from the Harpy. Therefore, in 2007, the THK agreed with IAI to purchase 48 Harops, an upgraded version of the Harpy, for $75 million to meet its operational needs. The main difference between Harpy and Harop is that Harop was equipped with an electro-optical day/night camera system on its nose and could transmit live footage via a data link system. However, the procurement was cancelled due to the deterioration of relations between Turkey and Israel.
The Turkish Harop-Kargı
Lentatek has not published any information on the technical characteristics of Kargı However, we can determine Kargı’s specifications by carefully analyzing its prototype and the statements made about it at various times.
Thanks to the passive RF receiver located on its nose, the Kargı can detect emissions from radars in the surrounding area. It can destroy the RF emission sources defined as enemy radar in the mission data file loaded into its memory by kamikaze diving. The Kargı can stay in the air for about six hours. It has a 30 kilogram warhead with high explosive fragmentation. It has features such as a bidirectional data link, control via SATCOM, resistance to strong electronic jamming and navigation via terrain information in a GPS-free environment. In addition, if the Kargı detects that it is being electronically jammed, it can head to the source transmitting the jamming signal. Kargı does not have an optical seeker system (FLIR) payload like the Harop. However, the FLIR payload is an optional feature for the following stages.
Due to its low altitude and low radar cross-section, it is very difficult for Kargı to be detected by air surveillance radars from a long distance. The bidirectional data link used in Kargı may be the Kement data link developed by HAVELSAN. Under the Özgür project, the F-16 Blok-30s will also receive the Kement Data Link capability. In this way, the F-16 fighter pilots can control the Kargı using the Kement Data Link and guide them to the desired targets.
In the Ukrainian-Russian war, Russia’s effective use of Iranian-made loitering munitions to neutralize Ukrainian air defense systems and urban infrastructure suggests that loitering munitions will soon be among the indispensable elements of the operational field. The Lentatek company will provide this critical capability to the TSK with Kargı. Moreover, as Russian President Vladimir Putin stated in a speech at the Valdai forum in October, the world is entering a critical 10-year period of uncertainty. For this reason, the TSK’s possession of modern weapons and systems is no longer a luxury for Turkey but a necessity. Indigenous defense companies should be supported by the SSB on an equal footing, without facing any discrimination and regardless of political concerns. Baykar Defense is not the only company doing a great job in Turkey; other companies in Turkey do a great job, too, but are not brought to the fore.
* Fatih Yurtsever is a former naval officer in the Turkish Armed Forces. He is using a pseudonym out of security concerns.
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