Turkey’s test on technology
In 1974, when the Turkish military started its Cyprus operation, Ankara faced a sudden and bitter reality. The U.S., as a major supplier of the Turkish Armed Forces, had stopped the delivery of all military equipment, from fighter jets to spare parts of field radios. Turkey had to ask Libya’s Muammar Gadhafi to borrow tires for the F-104s used in the Vietnam War. It was followed by an arms embargo by Congress in 1975. The Turkish government’s response was to close all NATO facilities in Turkey, including the strategic İncirlik air base, to the use of the American military.
That was a wakeup call for Ankara, which understood that it needed a national defense industry. The same year, the Military Electronics Industry of Turkey (ASELSAN) was established to meet the communication tool requirements of the Turkish Armed Forces. At the very beginning, the company had the modest target of producing hand radios for soldiers and policemen. Today, it produces and exports a wide-range of products, from complicated fire control systems to cryptography and information security systems. Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) started to jointly produce the American F-16s under license in Turkey with national software in 1987. Nowadays, TAI are in talks with the British BAE systems for the possibility of jointly developing a fifth generation fighter jet. Roketsan was established in 1988 to build nationally designed rockets and missiles. Turkey has been producing its own armored vehicles and light tanks since 1989. There are a couple of companies producing and exporting those vehicles. The Turkish navy has been using indigenous designs and produced corvettes for years and, on a similar program, frigates to stop import dependency. The 155 mm self-propelled howitzers, with 45-km range and which have been used against PKK targets in Syria and Iraq, are locally designed and produced by the public Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corporation (MKE) in its facilities in the northwestern province of Kırıkkale.
Turkey had difficulties in obtaining drones – armed and unarmed – from the U.S. for years. I know successive Turkish ambassadors to Washington who have failed to buy only two “Reapers” from the U.S. The “Heron” drones bought from Israel also had sustainability difficulties due to frequent political crises happening.
It was in the mid-2000s when the Turkish government decided to give incentives and provide protection to boost national defense industry. Thanks to that, Turkey is now one of the six countries in the world which can produce fully operative armed UAVs. Selçuk Bayraktar, the owner (and chief designer) of the Baykar group, told a group of journalists in Istanbul on Sept. 10 that they had already delivered 58 drones to the Turkish security forces, six of them being given to the police and some 15 of them were in the air on duty as he spoke. The company has already signed an export agreement with Qatar and talks are underway with Ukraine.
He is one of the sponsors of Turkey’s first “Teknofest” to be held in Istanbul on Sept. 20-23 on the premises of the new Istanbul airport, which is set to be opened on Oct. 29 Republic Day. This is going to be the first of its kind in Turkey. Thousands of technology producers, especially youngsters, are going to compete in 14 different branches, besides exhibitions and workshops. The competitions would be in fields like rocket launching, unmanned underwater systems and drone fights. In the “HackIst” competition, 2357 “white cap hackers” from 24 countries have been trying hard for some time to be in the top 10 to compete in Istanbul on Sept. 22 to become the first to crack a given strategic cyber target.
The idea is to find and cultivate new brains to boost technology production in Turkey. This is a new test for Turkey.