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Turkey complains over delay in delivery of LOROP system

May 5, 2003 (by Lieven Dewitte) - The Turkish Defense Ministry has filed a complaint with its Israeli counterpart regarding a delay in the supply of aerial photography systems that the former ordered from an Israeli contractor, Elbit Systems Ltd.
The Turkish air force had expected to receive the systems shortly before the Americans launched their attack on Iraq, at the very latest. However, no supply date has yet been set for the delivery, which is currently more than a year overdue.

According to Elbit, the delay stems from the unexpected difficulties encountered in developing the system's communications package.

The Turkish air force ordered three to four of the systems, in a deal valued at tens of millions of dollars. Elbit is working on the project along with two Israeli subcontractors, El Op and the Rafael Armament Development Authority.

The LOROP (Long Range Oblique Photography) system is considered one of the most advanced in the world. It is based on a telescopic camera developed by El Op that is capable of taking high-resolution photographs, in which people and vehicles can be clearly identified.

The El Op camera is installed in Israel's Ofek spy satellite. The American manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, recently began installing these cameras in its F-16 fighter jets.

One of the camera's main advantages is its relatively small size: It fits inside a 300-gallon container the size of a fighter jet's fuel tank.

The Turkish air force, however, asked Elbit to add another major component to the El Op camera - a real-time communications capability that will enable the photographs to be sent from the plane to a ground station while the aircraft is still in flight. This will enable the Turkish air force to take continuous pictures before, during and after an aerial attack, and send them back to the war room for an immediate assessment of the attack's success.

Elbit hired Rafael to develop the communications package, but the two companies soon discovered that developing the package was more complicated than they had initially thought. This resulted in a massive delay in the supply of the systems, and greatly angered the Turkish Defense Ministry.

Because of the enormous importance that the Israeli Defense Ministry attaches to good ties with Turkey, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz ordered his ministry to get involved in the dispute and sent ministry director-general Amos Yaron to investigate the matter. The investigation, however, was inconclusive, as Elbit and Rafael each blamed the other for the delay.

After the Defense Ministry's own research and development authority concluded that the project was technologically feasible, the Turks received a new supply date. Over the last few days, however, it has become clear that Elbit will miss this new deadline as well, and it is currently doubtful that the systems will even be supplied by the end of the year.