Post-election turmoil delaying defense programs

Post-election turmoil delaying defense programs

Burak Bekdil
Post-election turmoil delaying defense programs

DHA photo

A majority of Turkey’s ambitious multibillion dollar weapons system programs have quietly sunk into a period of uncertainty following the June 7 parliamentary elections, according to official and defense industry sources.

“There are too many unknowns,” said one senior defense procurement official. “For us [defense bureaucracy] the list of very important questions goes in order of priority as follows: Will a coalition government be formed, or will there be re-elections? In the event of a coalition government, who will the ruling Justice and Development Party’s [AKP] partner be? Will the AKP keep the Defense Ministry in his cabinet portfolio or will the coalition partner take over? If the coalition partner takes over, will it reshuffle priority programs? In either case, what kind of bureaucratic reshuffle is in the offing, including in the top management of state-controlled defense companies?”

He continued: “All of these various political/bureaucratic scenarios will cause delays in ongoing programs.”
A senior Western industry agrees that days of uncertainty are coming. “Any foreign or local player in the Turkish market should be prepared for potentially new terrain. The biggest question is: Who in procurement programs will be the decision-makers?” he said. 

Before the election, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his “presidential cabinet” were widely believed to have primary influence on major defense programs, some of which are seen as Erdogan’s “pet projects.”

But now, a Turkish defense company executive said, “we do not even know whether Erdoğan will remain as influential as he used to be, or be forced into a less or less influential position.”

“Every [political] scenario would likely strengthen the military’s role in assessing weapons programs,” said one military observer in Ankara. “I would expect a greater involvement of the generals in the future of top defense contracts.”

As İsmet Yılmaz quit as defense minister to become parliamentary speaker at a session on July 1, every scenario will mean there is a new defense minister, whether from the AKP or from its coalition partner. In another critical bureaucratic move, the government appointed June 22 Celal Sami Tüfekçi as new deputy undersecretary for the defense procurement agency, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM).

Before the appointment, Tüfekçi was responsible for aerospace programs. 

But a government official said he expected “minimum” post-election impact on ongoing programs. 

“The AKP will insist on keeping the Defense Ministry in its portfolio in any coalition talk. In recent years it has launched several high-profile programs - from drones to indigenous fighter and regional jets, from naval platforms to a national battle tank. It is unlikely that [Prime Minister Ahmet] Davutoğlu would give up on all of these national efforts,” he said.

“I also don’t expect a major change even if the AKP’s future coalition partner takes over the Defense Ministry. These are all projects of national pride and I do not see any partner should rewrite or scrap any of them after years of remarkable progress,” the official added.

That official admitted that there may be some delays or restructuring, but all major programs would eventually go ahead.