Flying battle tanks and underwater helicopters
The remarkable degree of progress Turkey’s national defense industry has achieved in the last decade is a fact. But how it is often portrayed by the ruling party and defense officials is a first-class lie.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was telling a near truth when he said that “Turkey’s transformation can be best seen in its defense industry.” It is true that there is a visible parallel between Turkey’s economic growth and its defense industry’s technological advancement under Mr. Erdoğan’s governance. All the same, unlike what Mr. Erdoğan might prefer to believe (or claim), the Turkish defense industry is still a few light years away from manufacturing flying battle tanks and underwater helicopters.
I ignored it when the prime minister claimed in a recent speech that Turkey was now capable of manufacturing its own “unmanned fighter aircraft.” I understand that Mr. Erdoğan dreams of a mighty army equipped by a mighty and purely Turkish defense industry, but someone should remind him that Turkey has not yet built and will probably never build unmanned fighter aircraft because there is no weapon system called unmanned fighter aircraft – and there will not be, at least in the next few decades.
But Turkey is trying to develop an unmanned aerial vehicle, if that’s the one the prime minister intended to refer to. That vehicle, the Anka, is not designed to fight, it is not in the Turkish military’s inventory, it may not be in service in the next several years, and, naturally, it is not entirely Turkish. After a couple of unfortunate crash landings and one almost trouble-less landing, the Anka’s prototype made another crash in October.
It would be a good idea if Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz investigated the hundred or so million dollars so far spent for the crash-addict prototype. It would be an even better idea if the willing chorus of propaganda buyers questioned how military vehicles can be “100 percent Turkish” when all of these “100 percent Turkish” vehicles sport foreign engines (because the mighty Turkish industry is not yet capable of producing a single engine).
It would be another idea if any curious analyst asked why the bulk of the money allocated for the development of Turkey’s first national tank, the Altay, went to foreign defense companies. How could a battle tank be “100 percent Turkish” when Turkey does not produce tank engines or armor? Will the Turks eventually manufacture a tank with sails and steel instead of armor?
And Technology Minister Nihat Ergün recently heralded that Turkey would very soon manufacture “its own Patriot missiles.” So I ask, will our “own Patriots” be launched by a made-in-Turkey, high-precision catapult system? If the “Turkish Patriots” will be in service very soon, why did Turkish diplomats have to knock on their NATO allies’ doors for the American Patriots? And why, then, is Ankara planning to buy foreign anti-missile and air defense systems from one of the four foreign bidders in a $4 billion contract?
And how, most recently, did Mr. Erdoğan verify that Turkey’s defense industry was now one of the most advanced in the world? By proudly telling an enthusiastically applauding crowd that “there are now two Turkish companies on a global list of top 10 defense companies.”
I am sorry, prime minister, either your speech writers are trying to cheat you or you are trying to cheat everyone. It is true that there is a list of top defense companies on a global scale. It is also true that there are two Turkish companies on that list. But it is not a top 10 list. How do I know? Simple. I compiled the Turkish data for that list. And it’s a top 100 list, not a top 10. But never mind, an additional zero is just a zero. It shouldn’t matter much.