Turkey seeks hybrid solution in ‘new vs old weapons’

Turkey seeks hybrid solution in ‘new vs old weapons’

Burak Bekdil
Turkey seeks hybrid solution in ‘new vs old weapons’

Only about 170 in Turkey’s entire battle tank inventory of 3,000 are upgraded platforms.

Turkey’s military and procurement planners are favoring a “hybrid” approach which they believe will optimize their logistical requirements and help them maintain a fine balance between new and old gear.
“We have a general understanding to avoid both extremes,” said one procurement official in charge of planning. “We don’t think a general framework would yield the best result in every case in consideration, and I think the military agrees to that.”

An army colonel dealing with logistical issues confirmed the matter. “A template solution would cause waste. We agree with the procurement bureaucracy that a case-by-case analysis would produce better results for the logistical cycle.”

Until the early 2000s, the dominant thinking in the military general command was to force the expiry limits of every equipment or system mostly through repairs, maintenance and upgrades due, mostly, to financial constraints.

As the Turkish economy has grown steadily in the last decade, the country prospered and more funds were allocated for new equipment, the military began to make more careful cost-benefit analyses and discovered that in many cases, new equipment meant less spending.  

In the past, foreign military aid, including surplus equipment from Western allies and the acquisition of second-hand systems, were also considered viable options. Those included the transfer to Turkey of second-hand frigates and tanks from the U.S.  

To a limited scale, upgrades remain a popular option to this day. For instance, Turkey remains committed to upgrading a batch of 30 F-16 Block 30 fighter jets. The upgrade contract, dubbed “Özgür” (or “free” in Turkish) was awarded to defense electronics specialist Aselsan, Turkey’s biggest defense firm.  

But reflecting Turkey’s selective, case-by-case policy, there are examples showing an opposite tendency. Earlier this year, the Turkish authorities decided to phase out about 100 F-4 and F-5 aircraft which the country had only upgraded in the early 2000s.  

“We had budgetary concerns,” a military official dealing with the program said. “We concluded that it was too expensive to keep those aircraft in our inventory.” 

The phase-out option is often most widely observed in the Turkish Air Force “because this service keeps in its inventory the kind of equipment and systems that would cost the most if not phased out,” the military official said.  

But not always. Turkey is upgrading a fleet of C-130 transport aircraft, with the first modernized platform delivered just this year.  

In 2012, Turkey also purchased a batch of six second-hand C-130E aircraft from Saudi Arabia. The combined cost of upgrades and Saudi acquisitions was nearly $100 million.

“On a more pessimistic note, you can say the Turkish policy is more based on random selection. I am not sure if the Turks are always able to meticulously calculate,” said one London-based Turkey specialist. “The Turkish choices can sometimes look inconsistent.”

The expert pointed out that on the one hand, Turkey is a partner of the multinational consortium that is building the future large aircraft, the A400M, and on the other, it is spending its money on upgrading its C-130s and buying second hand C-130Es. “Honestly, I don’t see the logic here,” he said.  

Another example is that Turkey last year completed upgrading its Perry-class frigates while it ambitiously pursues a national program to build new-generation, indigenous frigates in a program that totals more than $2 billion.

The Perry-class frigates were upgraded by Turkey’s state-controlled military software company Havelsan in a program dubbed “Genesis.” The program cost Turkey around $150 million.  

An Ankara-based military observer said the Turkish military was generally “slow” in its efforts to “get slimmer and better.”  

“Turkey has numerous armored vehicles programs and hundreds of vehicles come out of the assembly line every year,” he said. “And at the same time the army is still using the nearly scrap M113 personnel carriers.”  

In the past, Turkey upgraded scores of its aging M-48, M-60, Leopard I and Leopard II battle tanks. It is also negotiating to launch the serial production of its indigenous, new-generation tank, the Altay, another multi-billion dollar program.

“We can at least safely conclude that the tank upgrades in the future will be very limited in numbers,” the Ankara-based analyst said.  

Only about 170 in Turkey’s entire battle tank inventory of 3,000 are upgraded platforms.