Turkey’s defense industry reaches a key turning point

Turkey’s defense industry reaches a key turning point

The Turkish government has fairly ambitious plans about boosting its defense industry. For sure, the sector has shown a considerable growth in the last couple of years, with almost all leading arms companies developing new prototypes mostly along with Western partners. The sector has now reached a critical turning point and will need to show its ability to become a mass manufacturer. 

Turkey’s defense and aerospace exports rose from around $900 million in 2011 to $1.68 billion last year, although its exports in 2016 remained largely flat from $1.65 billion in 2015, (a rise of only 1.4 percent), mainly due to problems that hit the country’s exports overall. 

Sector players are showcasing their latest products and prototypes at the IDEF 2017 in Istanbul this week. Any regular visitor of the biennial fair can see how the product standards have risen this year compared to previous fairs. The same is true for potential customers visiting the stands. Until a couple of years ago, the main customer for these companies was the Turkish Armed Forces. This has now changed and a new customer base, mainly from Asian countries, has been created. 

A number of new defense technologies have been rolled out at the fair, with realized or planned local projects making their mark at the event.  

The prototype Hürkuş-C turboprop-powered plane, which is made to provide close air support in low-intensity combats, is showcased at the fair. The Atak program, an ongoing project that was started to meet the Turkish Armed Forces’ requirements for an attack and tactical reconnaissance helicopter, is also exhibited by TAI. The program is being produced by both TAI and the Italy-based Leonardo. 

FNSS, a Turkish joint venture company owned 51 percent by Nurol Holding and 49 percent by BAE Systems, showcased a prototype of its mid-weight tank Kaplan MT, a project developed in partnership with Indonesia’s PT Pindad. 

The national combat plane (TFX) project also made its initial appearance. 

A Turkish produced missile system, known as “Kaan,” also made its debut at the fair. The Kaan missile provides intense and effective firepower on high priority targets in military combat scenarios. It also provides the maneuver units with critical fire support.

An advanced and asymmetric version of Turkey’s indigenous main battle tank, the Altay, which has been developed by Otokar to meet the changing needs and requirements of the Turkish Armed Forces based on experiences from the Euphrates Shield operation, also made its debut at the fair. 

Otokar CEO Serdar Görgüç told the Hürriyet Daily News that the “Altay Asymmetrical Warfare Tank,” dubbed the Altay AHT in Turkish, is a version of the standard Altay, which completed qualification tests and is awaiting a mass production contract from Turkish authorities. 

Many others could be added to the list. Most of the showcased products generally have two features in common: They are still under development by Turkish companies and this process is continuing with foreign partners. 

It is quite normal for developing sectors to make key partnerships with foreign companies in order to get the required know-how and to experience and benefit from key training opportunities for their workers. For instance, Turkey’s Kale Group and the U.K.’s Rolls-Royce announced early this week that they would establish a joint venture to develop and make jet motors, for a special focus on Turkey’s TF-X project, although the scope will not be limited to this project, according to top representatives from these companies. 

The turning point I have been mentioning is that all of Turkish companies have been rapidly making a transition to the next stage from the prototype development: Undertaking mass production and establishing the accompanying sales and marketing channels. 

What they should do next is focus on improving themselves in these two key areas as soon as possible in a highly competitive sector. 

The top chief of a leading global defense company told me at the fair that Turkey has two main strengths: A good technical university base and a number of relatively developed manufacturing industries. 

These key strengths should be seen and evaluated by the Turkish sector, which is unfortunately having difficulties in finding a high-quality workforce. 

Last but not the least, for the government to achieve its ambitious plans regarding the sector, it will be of great importance not to politicize any tenders or partnerships so as to create a fair playing field for all potential and existing players.