Less than 12 months after it first broke cover, Turkey’s home-grown reduced signature flying wing unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) has taken to the air. The first flight of the Turkish Aircraft Industries (TAI) ANKA-3 MIUS (which stands for National Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle System in Turkish) is a significant development, putting Turkey in an exclusive club of nations to have flown a drone in this class.
Today’s maiden flight of the ANKA-3 lasted one hour and 10 minutes and saw the drone reach an altitude of 8,000 feet and a speed of 150 knots.
The turbofan-powered ANKA-3 took off at 8:38 a.m. local time and was accompanied by a TAI Hürkuş turboprop trainer as chase aircraft.
The event is a big deal for Turkey as a whole, reflected by a tweet to mark the occasion from President Tayyip Erdogan. On X (formerly Twitter) the Turkish leader wrote:
“Our unmanned warplane ANKA-3, developed by TAI, successfully completed its first flight today. Hopefully, our aircraft will make a strong contribution to the defense of our country with its advanced technologies, design, and features.”
While we have previously looked in some detail at the design of the ANKA-3, Turkish media are now reporting some additional details about the projected specifications of the drone, regarding its weapons-carrying ability.
Reportedly, each of the two fuselage stores stations will be able to carry 1,400 pounds of weapons. The two inner-wing stations will each also be able to lift 1,400 pounds, while the outer-wing stations will each have a capacity of 220 pounds. The drone also has internal weapons bays, which will be necessary to preserve its low-observable features.
Among the weapons that have now been announced for the drone’s armory include the U.S.-made Mk 82 500-pound freefall bomb (one could also assume GPS-guided derivatives thereof) and Small Diameter Bomb (SDB), as well as the locally produced SOM-J, a standoff missile with a range of at least 170 miles.
The ANKA-3 is nothing if not ambitious, befitting a country that is also developing a crewed stealth fighter, which is also due to make its first flight any time soon. Indeed, it’s very likely that the TF-X fighter and the ANKA-3 are intended to ultimately work together, as part of a crewed/uncrewed teaming arrangement.
Comparable in size to a light fighter, the ANKA-3’s low-observable characteristics are intended to make it survivable for combat missions including strike, surveillance, suppression and destruction of enemy air defenses, and electronic warfare.
As we have discussed in the past, the ANKA-3 is likely to introduce more stealthy features as its development continues. In particular, the current exhaust nozzle, a conventional, round type may well give way to a low-observable exhaust after initial testing is completed. We have seen the same thing happen in the past with the Russian Okhotnik-B UCAV, as well as China's GJ-11 Sharp Sword.
Another interesting aspect of the ANKA-3 is how this flying wing UCAV might be expected to operate once in service. Notably, Turkey is also working on the more high-performance Bayraktar Kizilelma drone, described as the country’s first unmanned fighter-like aircraft and which is already in flight testing.
In the past, The War Zone predicted that these two types could deliver a unique mix of advanced uncrewed air combat capabilities to the Turkish Air Force — and potentially export customers.
It’s also especially intriguing that, as far as what's officially disclosed, the United States does not have a flying wing UCAV program in active development. Meanwhile, China (which has many) and Russia both do.
For the United States, for the time being, the focus appears to be on collaborative teaming aircraft, with an emphasis on generating “affordable mass,” as well as higher-performing types closer in ethos to the Kizilelma than the ANKA-3.
This is despite the U.S. Navy’s development of the X-47B carrier-borne UCAV demonstrator, later abandoned, as well as the USAF making UCAV development a centerpiece of its future combat force in the late 2000s. The result is a startling gap in terms of flying wing UCAVs, something that you can read about in much more depth here.
Meanwhile, Turkey looks set to continue its drone revolution, with the ANKA-3 now having joined the Kizilelma in flight test. As well as a range of successful, less-ambitious drones, which have been combat-proven in different theaters, Turkey is also busy developing the new HÜRJET advanced jet trainer, a supersonic design that can also provide light fighter capabilities. Then there is the aforementioned TF-X fighter, probably the most ambitious of all these projects.
At least some of these aircraft could also be very useful in filling an emerging gap in the Turkish Air Force’s combat fleet, with Ankara facing delays in acquiring another batch of F-16 fighters from the United States. As an alternative, Turkey has also been looking at buying a batch of Eurofighter Typhoons, but such a deal has been opposed by Germany, as you can read about here.
Exactly how successful the ANKA-3, or Turkey’s other advanced combat aircraft projects may turn out to be is a matter of conjecture. Each one comes with a plethora of inbuilt risks and there will very likely be some major hurdles ahead. In particular, software development, networking architecture, and subsystem integration can present big challenges. Just how reduced the ANKA-3's signature will end up being is also a big question that could heavily impact how it's used in actual combat. Low-probability of intercept radar, radios, and datalinks will also need to be developed to match whatever low-observable physical capabilities it has now and succeeds in acquiring in the future. Its control architecture and whatever autonomy it may need are other critical issues.
Regardless, the maiden flight of the ANKA-3 is another very visible symbol of Turkey’s uncrewed aircraft ambitions, as well as the continuing advances made by its domestic aerospace industry.
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