TUSAŞ (Turkish Aerospace Industries) has announced that the ANKA-3 Unmanned Combat Aircraft has been equipped with a new mission. The ANKA-3 can now be used as an aerial refueling UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) and perform in-flight refueling for combat aircraft beyond the frontlines. This innovative feature aims to further enhance Turkey’s defense capabilities.
Turkey has been making significant investments in unmanned aerial platforms, using them against terrorist targets in countries like Syria and Iraq, and playing a crucial role in the Russia-Ukraine war by exporting or donating UAVs to Ukraine. Turkey, which has exported UAVs to over 20 countries, continues its investments in new UAV capabilities. TRT Haber, in contact with TUSAŞ officials responsible for developing the ANKA-3, announced that the Anka-III UAV can also be used as a “tanker aircraft.” (Read also: “Turkey’s HAVA-SOJ Project: Advanced Airborne Electronic Warfare System“)
Significance of Tanker Aircraft
The importance of tanker aircraft arises from the increased fuel consumption of combat aircraft at high speeds. The fuel tanks of combat aircraft are relatively small, limiting their fuel capacity. Fuel level is a critical factor that affects the aircraft’s range. This is where tanker aircraft come into play. Tanker aircraft perform fuel transfer operations, providing refueling capabilities in the required region during peacetime and often operating behind the frontline during times of war. This enables combat aircraft to perform missions successfully beyond their range limitations.
Why Stealth Tanker Aircraft are Essential
The Turkish Air Force has KC-135R tanker aircraft for aerial refueling. However, these aircraft have a significant radar cross-section, making them vulnerable targets. As a result, refueling operations are usually conducted in a “safe zone.” This is where the ability of ANKA-3 to be used as a “tanker aircraft” becomes a significant advantage. ANKA-3 is a specialized aerial vehicle with a low radar signature by design. Its low radar cross-section allows it to perform in-flight refueling for combat aircraft beyond the frontline, even in risky areas.
The ANKA-3, developed by TUSAŞ, is not only a first for Turkey but also positions the country among the few nations that are working on using unmanned aerial vehicles as tanker aircraft. In this field, U.S. technology is usually at the forefront. However, countries like Turkey are also conducting research and development in this area, aiming to possess next-generation unmanned, low radar signature tanker UAV technology.
We are currently witnessing a period where unmanned systems are gaining prominence in land, sea, and air combat theaters. In addition to unmanned combat aircraft, the importance of unmanned tanker aircraft with low radar signatures is increasing. These tanker UAVs, with low radar cross-sections, are particularly valuable for advanced combat aircraft referred to as 4.5 and 5th generation aircraft.
ANKA-3, with its expected low radar signature, advanced sensors, and future tanker capability, will expand Turkey’s unmanned aerial vehicle portfolio. Turkey, which has exported UAVs like Bayraktar TB2, Anka, Aksungur, and Bayraktar Akıncı to over 20 countries, aims to take its capabilities to the next level and sign even larger export agreements with Bayraktar Kızılelma and Anka-3. The ANKA-3, designed by TUSAŞ and with its maiden flight approaching, has features such as a 10-hour endurance, ability to reach an altitude of 40,000 feet, maximum takeoff weight of 6.5 tons, and payload capacity of 1200 kg.
In summary, the ANKA-3 Unmanned Combat Aircraft gaining the capability to serve as a tanker UAV will elevate Turkey’s achievements in the defense sector. This innovative capability will increase the operational effectiveness of the Turkish Air Force by providing long-range fueling capabilities during missions. The upcoming version of ANKA-3 will be a technology that only a few countries worldwide possess. This new Anka-III model will operate jointly with future Turkish Air Force inventory, including or planned to include F-16, Hürjet, Anka-3 (combat version), Bayraktar Kızılelma, and Kaan, among other combat aircraft.
Reference: TRT Haber, Turkish Aerospace Industries