Defense firms blink to new top bureaucrat
BURAK BEKDİL ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
İsmet Demir, former general manager of THY Teknik, has been appointed to head the defense procurement body.Local and foreign players in Turkey’s thriving and increasingly “national” defense industry have agreed the newly-appointed chief procurement official would add to what his predecessor did in the last decade: more indigenous programs, with a special emphasis on aerospace.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government appointed Apr. 12 Professor Ismail Demir, a prominent aviation expert, as the new head to the Undersecretary for Defense Industries (SSM), the office that oversees defense procurement. Prof. Demir took over from Murad Bayar, who was removed from office March 28 and appointed as chief advisor to Erdoğan.
Before the appointment, Demir was the general manager of THY Teknik A.Ş., the maintenance subsidiary of Turkey’s national carrier Turkish Airlines. The 54-year-old professor holds a degree in aviation engineering from Istanbul Technical University. He earned his post-graduate degrees from U.S. universities.
Between 1992 and 2003 he worked at numerous universities and science institutions in the U.S., Canada and Saudi Arabia. He joined THY Teknik in 2003 and became its general manager in 2006.
“He is a realist and an aviation enthusiast,” said one Turkish CEO who had a corporate-level working relationship with him over the past couple of years. “He will try to synchronize some military and civilian aviation programs.”
Earlier this year, THY Teknik and military electronics specialist Aselsan, Turkey’s largest defense firm, signed a cooperation agreement to jointly work on electronic warfare suites, electronic intelligence systems and integration of radars to military aircraft.
Turkey has two programs waiting to take off independently. The TF-X is a national effort to design, develop and manufacture what will become Turkey’s first indigenous fighter jet. Insiders widely expect a government “go ahead” for the development phase of the program, after TUSAŞ Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) designed three draft models for the future aircraft. Separately, the Turkish government has long been seeking to design and build a medium-size passenger aircraft.
Demir is known to be a close aide of former Transport Minister Binali Yıldırım, who lost a mayoral election race for Izmir on March 30.
“Yıldırım will have a lot of say over programs, especially aviation-related,” said one defense source.
A western defense company executive said Demir is known to be a genuine aviation expert with an honest and reasonable view over ongoing programs. “We expect smoothly working relations with the SSM under his management,” the official said.
But procurement bureaucracy does not expect a quick “take-over” from the new boss.
“He is a knowledgeable man, but it will take some time before he learns well enough about several thick and complex dossiers on programs that are unfamiliar to him, especially, in non-aviation,” said one procurement official. “There will be a long period of briefing after briefing which may highlight the importance of the second-top circle at SSM (deputy undersecretaries and other senior bureaucrats).”
Under Demir’s initiative, in 2013 THY launched two hangars under the corporate identity of Turkish HABOM, operating at Istanbul’s Atatürk and Sabiha Gökçen airports. Turkish HABOM is an aviation repairs and maintenance center catering for more than 18 airlines around the world.