How Turkey Became a Global Leader in Modern Armament Supply

Turkey is actively exporting its armaments to various countries worldwide, including Kazakhstan.

26/07/2023 - 22:07
Source: Dailysabah
Source: Dailysabah

Turkey is gradually emerging as a global leader in the field of armament exports. Read on to discover how this feat was achieved in a report by correspondent.

The burgeoning Turkish defense-industrial complex stands as a cornerstone of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's independent foreign policy and a tool of his "soft power." Over the past decades, Turkey's defense industry has grown exponentially. In 2010, only one Turkish company made it to the list of the top 100 defense companies. By 2022, that number had risen to seven – more than Israel, Russia, Sweden, and Japan combined. Moreover, the share of imported weaponry decreased by 40% from 2015 to 2019. In parallel, Turkey's defense exports reached a record-breaking $3 billion in 2021, making Turkey the 14th largest global arms exporter.

Furthermore, Turkey is one of the few nations manufacturing armed drones. The "Bayraktar" drone has become an emblem of the Turkish defense industry after its deployment in several armed conflicts.

According to Ferhat Gurini of the Carnegie Institute, the coverage in pro-government media signals that Erdogan's desire to expand and enhance the domestic arms industry has become a personal project. Moreover, following the 2018 reforms, the Secretariat for Defense Industry came under the President's control.

While Turkey's defense industry may appear as a confident export sector, it still faces challenges.

Many companies are heavily reliant on Western technologies. Notably, Turkey lacks the technical capabilities to develop its own engines. It's worth noting that Turkish defense industry doesn't produce basic engines for drones or armored vehicles, while more complex engines, such as those for fighter jets or tanks, are mainly produced under licenses.

T-129 ATAK

For example, the USA has denied Turkey a license to produce the CTS-800A engine due to growing diplomatic tensions. US intervention thwarted a 2018 deal between Turkey and Pakistan to sell 30 T-129 ATAK attack helicopters for over $1.5 billion. Although the deal fell through, in 2021, the US – as the engine's licensor – permitted Turkey to supply six helicopters to the Philippines for $260 million.

Turkey's engine dependency also led to delays in fulfilling another contract for the development and production of the "Altay" battle tank. Qatar and Turkey established a joint venture to produce tanks and signed a $1 billion contract to purchase 100 Altay tanks.

Turkey relied on German engines for these tanks' production. However, Germany ended this collaboration in response to Turkey's operation in northern Syria. Consequently, Turkey's engine problem jeopardized several billion-dollar contracts, exemplifying a high degree of external dependency, from which Turkey is attempting to break free. Nevertheless, in recent years, developers managed to find an alternative to German engines – the Turkish defense industry developed its own BATU tank engine with a power of 1,500 horsepower.

“Altay” Battle Tank

Despite Turkey's desire to leverage its growing domestic defense industry to disentangle itself from traditional allies, the sector remains heavily reliant on partnerships, not just concerning engine production.

The start of Turkey's "Fountain of Peace" operation involving the invasion of Kurdish-populated northern Syria led to an embargo on defense-related materials by several European countries. This two-month embargo cost Turkey's defense industry approximately $1 billion.

Much of Turkey's defense industry relies on Western military technologies. For instance, Turkey's largest vessel, the 27,000-ton aircraft carrier "Anadolu," is based on the Spanish analog, "Juan Carlos I." Most of Turkey's modern naval ships, including the "Barbarossa"-class and "Yavuz"-class frigates, as well as high-speed assault boats, were designed in Germany. Turkey's attempt to create a domestic fighter jet relies on engines from British company "Rolls-Royce," which discontinued cooperation. South Korean companies supply engines and transmissions for the Altay tank.

Considering that intellectual property rights constitute a major point of contention in the defense industry, Turkey is likely to remain dependent on expensive foreign technological assistance in the foreseeable future. The cost of this dependency will be exacerbated by Turkey's struggling currency.

Moreover, following the failed coup attempt in July 2016, Erdogan organised large-scale repression, resulting in mass emigration. As a result of a 2018 investigation by the Turkish Procurement Authority, more than 270 senior engineers from defense industry companies emigrated to Western countries.

While Turkey's defense industry has grown geometrically, this trend may be disrupted due to chronic problems in developing complex technologies, such as engines, and brain drain. It should be noted that the primary customer of the Turkish defense industry is the Turkish Army. Given that the domestic market could become oversaturated, the industry may struggle to sustain such a colossal economic boom. Nevertheless, establishing a local defense industry constitutes a major political victory for Erdogan, and for this reason, it is likely to continue flourishing. While this may not be economically optimal, it remains a political priority.




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