Turkish defense industry aims high
The last decade and a half under the rule of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) have surely singled out the defense industry as the most steadfastly growing sector in Turkey despite cyclical economic ups and downs. This is no coincidence but a reflection of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s foreign and security policy understanding.
“Turkey will be a global power, a leading country in the new term. Our fundamental focus is on our Defense Industry to achieve this aim,” he once said, which has now become the motto of the Presidency of Defense Industries.
In December 2017, the Presidency of Defense Industries was tied to the Presidency from the Defense Ministry in order to highlight the importance attached to this agency by President Erdoğan. He chairs each and every executive-committee of the presidency and closely follows all major projects.
In an address on the occasion of a groundbreaking ceremony for one biggest defense industry investments in recent years by the BMC, one of largest commercial and defense vehicle producers, with the partnership of Qatar, Erdoğan explained his devotion to the national and independent defense industry.
Citing regional security problems stemming from instability in neighboring countries as well as continued terror threats against Turkey, Erdoğan said “Turkey must be powerful politically, economically and diplomatically as well as with its military power. We must increase our deterrence by improving our technology.”
He also recalled an arms embargo by the United States because of Turkey’s military intervention in Cyprus in the mid-1970s as a sour memory which Turkey should never experience in the future.
If Turkey is now emerging as hard power in its immediate neighborhood through cross-border operations and establishing military bases in some of the regional countries, like Qatar, its investment into an independent defense industry carries weight with it.
He said Turkey decreased foreign dependence in its defense sector from 80 percent in 2002 to 35 percent since coming to power in 2002.
Still, the Turkish defense industry is aiming high. İsmail Demir, the head of the Presidency of Defense Industries and an aircraft engineer, unveiled the objectives of its agency for the coming decades during a comprehensive briefing to Ankara bureau chiefs of the newspapers last week.
By 2053, the Turkish defense industry aims to be 100 percent independent with an export capacity of $50 billion, Demir said. It also seeks to have at least 10 Turkish defense companies among 100 biggest companies in the world as Turkey currently has four companies on that list. An independent, sustainable and competitive defense industry supported by qualified human resources is needed for Turkey’s ambitions to become a global power, the presidency’s 2053 objectives tell.
İsmail Demir informed that his presidency is currently running more than 610 projects with more than $6 billion endorsements, describing this achievement as a big revolution only in 15 years.
Yet 2019 will be important in terms of Turkey’s defense industry objectives.
TCG Kınalıada, another MILGEM corvette, will be given to the service of the Naval Forces while TCG Anadolu, Turkey’s first indigenously built multipurpose amphibious assault ship which can also be configured as a light aircraft carrier, will hit the seas in February. Turkey’s first new generation submarine, Piri Reis, is also expected to hit the seas in 2019.
Turkey’s first F-35 will be deployed to an airbase in Malatya in late 2019 approximately at the same time with the deployment of Russian S-400 anti-ballistic missile systems. This year will also observe renewed negotiations between Turkey and the U.S. for the sale of the latter’s Patriot air defense systems instead of Russian product.
All these talks have overwhelmingly political influences and Turkey’s choices in cooperating with non-NATO countries have sparked many questions over its foreign and security policy inclinations.
This year will be no different. It will remain to be seen how Turkey will be able to handle the “S-400 versus Patriots tension” and avoid fresh troubles with its allies while fulfilling its defense industry objectives.