TBY talks to Hüseyin Baysak, Secretary General of the Defense & Aerospace Industry Manufacturers Association (SaSad), on the success of the Turkish defense and aerospace industry and the participation of international companies.

What is to thank for the rapid growth of Turkey's defense industry?

The Turkish aerospace industry developed as a sort of spin-off of the defense industry in Turkey, thanks to a number of offset projects. Defense companies like Airbus, Boeing, and Sikorsky came to Turkey and had offset obligations. Presently, there is no manufacturer that can produce a civilian aircraft from start to finish in Turkey, but we have relations with various companies and aircraft producers all over the world. SMEs and clusters are a very important part of our establishment in the defense and aerospace industry. SMEs are at the base of technology in Europe, and they are very synergetic. We also have a very strong technological base when compared to some other developing countries. This is our magic.

It is easy to find suppliers in Turkey, which is very important. In some countries, for example, it is difficult to find companies that produce in the aerospace or defense area. We have one cluster, in Izmir, one in Eskişehir, and another one in Ankara. SaSad has the objective to encourage clusters because when companies get together they become very strong. This is the reason Turkey is developing quickly in this area, based on the rich variety of its SMEs. Our main suppliers are also trying to help smaller companies gain this kind of capability and potentially supply them with resources, machines to manufacture, or engineering support.

What sort of technical assistance does SaSaD provide?

We have consultancy commissions within the SaSaD organization made up of all the members and engineers, and each committee consists of 40 people, with eight commissions. For example, we have an SME consultancy commission and a quality commission. These committees arrange training for SMEs. We supply direction to them and try to take their problems to the government or to our main suppliers and solve them. This is one of the most important types of support we give.

What role does SaSaD play in assisting foreign investment in Turkish defense companies?

We have some members that are foreign investors, and in practice they report that they have some difficulties. In order to produce a defense product in Turkey, the facility should be secure. Foreign investors can buy any percentage of a Turkish company and sit on the board of directors. However, they can face difficulties when it comes to secret national projects. We help with discussions over the export license problem, and our organization is getting together with German and Italian associations and working through these problems in order to encourage their governments to make it easier to obtain export licenses. They cannot do it by themselves, and we are working at the strategic level for all our members, as we are the people who can offer solutions. If they establish good communications with SaSaD, then they know everything that is going on, what will happen, and how to resolve issues. We also have very close relations with the biggest private sectorial organization, the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB). Deputy Secretary General of SaSaD, Yılmaz Küçükseyhan, is also heading the Defense and Aerospace assembly of TOBB. This has created a strong link between SaSaD and TOBB.

To what extent are international companies investing in Turkish R&D?

Many international authorities and industrialists in the US, Germany, and the UK are coming to Turkey to work together, not only to manufacture for the Turkish Armed Forces but also to export via joint ventures. They are forming partnerships with our companies because of the export license problems in their countries and the good reputation Turkey enjoys in some countries. In addition, the Turkish Defense and Aerospace Industry offers services at a high quality and reasonable cost that meet international standards. Together they produce the technology in Turkey and they can easily export their products.

Why is it more attractive for them to produce in Turkey than it is in the UK or in Germany?

Companies choose Turkey for its industrial capability to produce defense and aviation products at a high-quality level with reasonable costs. Our workforce has experience through international programs and partnerships. In addition, in the UK and Germany there are very rigid laws and legal restrictions about exporting products to foreign countries. We are aware of these restrictions as well; we never sell these kinds of products to countries that do not have clearance. Turkey is also rigid on export licenses, but not like Germany or the UK. We are even better than the US in terms of export licenses. This does not mean we sell to everybody—we are both a UN and NATO member, so we have rules and legal obligations.