A month and a half before a deadline to respond to a call from Ankara for a critical surveillance satellite program, scores of local and international manufacturers have expressed their intention to bid for the contract.

Turkey’s government had earmarked an initial $138 million for the country’s space program and asked local and international manufacturers to respond to a request for information (RFI), which procurement officials often view as an expression of intention to bid for the satellite or related equipment and services. But a procurement official familiar with the program said the eventual cost may exceed $250 million.

As of July 7, 41 local and foreign manufacturers had responded to the RFI, the deadline for which is Aug. 26, according to Turkey’s defense procurement office, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries, or Savunma Sanayi Mustesarligi (SSM).

Foreign manufacturers obtaining the RFI include Orbital Sciences, Dulles, Va.; Lockheed Martin, Bethesda, Md.; AeroAstro, Ashburn, Va.; Ball Aerospace & Technologies, Boulder, Colo.; Alenia Spazio, Rome; Alcatel Space, Paris; Thales Communications France, Neuilly-sur-Seine, France; EADS Astrium, Toulouse, France; the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, Tokyo; Israel Aircraft Industries’ MBT Space Division, Lod, Israel; Yuzhnoye State Design Office, Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine; Russian arms export agency Rosoboronexport, Moscow; Surrey Satellite Technology, Guildford, England; and Korea Aerospace Research Institute, Daejun, South Korea.

Potential local contenders are Tusas Aerospace and Aselsan, Turkey’s biggest defense firm, both in Ankara. German communications giant Siemens’ Istanbul-based corporate entity, Siemens Sanayi ve Ticaret, also is a potential bidder.

The RFI describes the program in three components:

  • The satellite: A very high-resolution, electro-optical reconnaissance and surveillance imaging satellite.
  • The system: The satellite and ground systems.
  • The project: The system, launch and early orbit operational services, integrated logistics support, technological transfer, localization, co-development and co-usage of the system and other necessary equipment and services.

The program will be run by the SSM and involves the development of an electro-optical reconnaissance and surveillance satellite system for the Air Force’s space-based image intelligence architecture, according to the RFI. Here, the architecture comprises passive and active remote sensing satellite systems, such as electro-optical and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) gear and ground systems.

The program aims to provide a modern, effective means of monitoring the land and coastal waters surrounding Turkey, and establish a national database and improve industrial capability in space technology with special emphasis on remote sensing satellites.

The respondents are asked to inform the SSM of governmental authorizations/licenses and warranty issues, and to propose a master time schedule.

An industry source said that while all of those companies that have obtained the RFI will probably bid, the genuine competition would be limited to a few manufacturers.

“I would say … the real competition will be among the U.S., French, German, Israeli and Russian contenders,” said the source.

A procurement official familiar with the program said that “the resolution” will be one of the crucial parameters in gauging bids.

“Although the RFI mentions a resolution of at least 1 meter, the real threshold is that of 50 centimeters,” he said. “And every inch counts. We want the maximum available resolution.” Resolution refers to the clear detection of ground objects of a specific size and larger.

Turkey’s original program for a national military satellite had been scrapped in 2001, when Ankara canceled a contract with Alcatel in response to a French parliamentary resolution that recognized the deaths in Turkey of hundreds of thousands of Armenians under Ottoman rule as genocide.

A defense analyst said the satellite program is of strategic significance, as the Turkish Armed Forces is gradually changing its “threat concept” toward asymmetrical threats.

“The satellite program fits well into the Turkish Armed Forces’ emerging threat perception: terrorism,” said a London-based Turkey specialist. “It has gained importance, especially in the recent wave of terror attacks in Turkey and abroad.”