Turkey's Developing Arms Industry
Updated: Sep 10, 2019
During last few years, Turkey has introduced new missiles such as “Atmaca” and “Som”, MILGEM (Ada Class) war ships joined the naval forces, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), and it was announced that TCG Anadolu, Turkey’s first amphibious assault ship and aircraft carrier, will join the naval forces in 2019, one year earlier than planned. In addition to those indigenous arms products of Turkish arms industry, the country will also obtain Russian S-400 air defense systems, which is one of the most effective systems, and joint-product F-35 A and F-35 B in 2019. By getting into a self-supplied position in arms industry, Turkey seeks to lessen its dependency from other countries, even from its allies such as USA and Germany. However, domestic production also increases Turkey’s share in world’s arms market.
Turkey is the second biggest army in NATO, but majority of its tanks, helicopters and heavy weaponry are technologically out of date, and their modernization or importing new arms products are costly. By increasing the domestic arms production for a necessary expense, Turkey keeps some money in the country rather than paying external providers. This enables Turkey to continue its production despite the currency crisis such as the one in Summer 2018.
However, this is not the only advantage Turkey receives by lessening its external dependency. In mid-1990s, Turkey purchased Leopard tanks from Germany with the condition of that Turkey would not use the tanks in eastern provinces, so Turkey could not use them against PKK. Therefore, Turkish government prepared the MITÜP (the National Tank Production Project), and Altay tanks, which are also subject to export, are results of that project. Also, during the Olive Branch Operation, early in 2018, Germany refused modernizing Leopard 2 tanks of Turkish Armed Forces. Furthermore, technological dependency, even mislead Turkish Armed Forces according to former minister of National Defense, Nurettin Canikli, who claimed that Israeli controlling engineers provided wrong intelligence to Israeli made Herons (UAV) bought in 2004 although Turkey paid a lot of money for them. Now, electronic systems of F-16s and Leopards are replaced by Turkish made ones and Turkey is also one of few countries producing its own UAVs. Despite the failure of a joint attack helicopter agreement with USA in 2006, Turkey joined American Lockheed Martin Aeronautics’ joint F-35 projects as one of the contributors by investing $195 million.
With its arms industry companies such as ROKETSAN, ASELSAN, HAVELSAN, TUSAŞ, and others, not only has Turkey improved its arms industry but also increased its export share in the world arms market. Compared to the first half of 2017, Turkey has increased its weaponry sales by 14% in same period of 2018, by reaching over $900 million worth sales. According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the country holds the highest percentage of arms sales increase (145%) between 2013 and 2017 in the world. The country also gets a stronger hand in arms negotiations. By signing for sale of four Ada Class corvettes, in 2017, Turkey will earn $1 billion from Pakistan in addition to the sales of 30 T129 Atak helicopters from the same country. Moreover, in addition to Pakistan, also Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan are interested in purchasing Turkish Altay tanks.
By improving its military technology, Turkey also saves some money. Rather than using F-16s, Turkey began using its weaponized and non-weaponized UAVs for explorations over YPG locations in Syria, bombing PKK camps in northern Iraq, and patrolling over Aegean Sea. UAVs can fly almost a day for the cost of one F-16’s fly for an hour ($25.000 empty - $85.000 full), and it does not risk any pilot’s life.
Recently, Turkey’s S-400 air defense deal with Russia appears a problem with its NATO allies, especially the US. Trump administration wanted Turkey to cancel the deal as Russian defense systems will not be synchronized with NATO systems. To convince Turkey, US Congress cancelled Turkey`s rights in the F-35 project. However, Turkish government insisted on the purchase of both sales. Furthermore, Turkey also announced its interests in American Patriot air defense systems by stating that S-400 and Patriot sales are separated projects.
In conclusion, Turkey, as one of the most powerful actors in Eastern Mediterranean, increases its military strength by investing in domestic production while decreases its arms dependency. The more Turkey drops buying arms from abroad, the more arms are bought from Turkey. Besides, in 2019, Turkey has one of the strongest air defense shield in the world after acquiring Russian S-400 despite being out from F-35s. Turkey`s S-400 purchase from Russia showed that Turkey is not dependent on its NATO allies, and some speculations as a sign of a shift from NATO to Russia.
Ahval, “Turkish Arms Industry Grows 24 Percent”, 10 December 2018.
CEFTUS, “CEFTUS Briefing on Developments in the Turkish Defence Industry”,13 December 2018.
Export, “Turkey Defence Technology and Equipment”, 30 July 2018.
Hürriyet, “Turkey’s Defence Industry Exports Hit 900 Million in 2018”, 3 July 2018.
Kaya, Alper. TechWorm, “F-16’nın Fiyatı Nedir? F-16’nın Bir Saatlik Uçuşu Kaç TL’dir?”, 20 July 2018.
Sipri,”Global Arms Industry: US companies Dominate the Top 100; Russian Arms Industry Moves to Second Place”, 10 December 2018.
Tekingündüz, Alican. TRT World, “Turkey’s Growing Defence Industry”, 4 May 2018.