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Turkey 2014 | DEFENSE & AEROSPACE | REVIEW: DEFENSE

The remarkable development of new defense products by a dynamic and well-funded sector is leading to growing respect for the “Made in Turkey" label.

Defense of the territorial integrity of the state has been at the heart of the Republic of Turkey since its foundation. Following the Turkish War of Independence and the expulsion of the armies occupying its lands, the modern state was established, and the national motto “sovereignty unconditionally belongs to the nation" expresses this fundamental concept of self-determination that is ultimately guaranteed by the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), and the country's land, naval, and air forces. Out of a total population of almost 76.6 million, Turkey has an active frontline force of more than 400,000 troops, with additional reserves of around 200,000. This places Turkey firmly within the top-10 largest armies in the world, in which it currently ranks seventh.

Turkey has been engaged in a steady process of consolidating weapon and vehicle production at home. Military expenditure was at 2.31% of GDP in 2012, while total defense and civil aviation exports reached $1.26 billion in the same year, according to the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM). This figure rose to record heights in 2013 with $1.4 billion in exports, and as a result of the sector's continued success, a target of $5 billion has been set by the Ministry of Defense for 2023. In the shorter term, 2014 is expected to yield sales of $2 billion.

The extensive range of products being developed and manufactured by joint-ventures, private, and state-owned firms such as FNSS, BaykarMakina, Savronik, and Turkish Aerospace Industries, is being consumed both domestically and in a widening rage of export markets. The Turkish Navy's MİLGEM project has been a groundbreaking success for domestic design and production. The resulting Ada-class corvette has been praised highly, and a third unit has already been commissioned for service. Along with a 76 mm 62 Caliber gun, two 12.7 mm machine guns are mounted on a stabilized machine gun platform designed by local electronics manufacturer ASELSAN. It is also equipped with advanced sensors to fulfill search and rescue functions and to allow for anti-submarine capabilities, and its six torpedo tubes make this modern corvette a formidable addition to the national navy.

Another key innovation in the country's defense design portfolio has been Otokar's Altay main battle tank (MBT). With a $1 billion Ministry of Defense investment in the development of this crucial addition to the national land forces, this MBT has allowed companies within the sector to collaborate and improve their capabilities. Again, ASELSAN was responsible for certain components, while Otokar oversaw the project, ensuring that the most advanced technologies available were incorporated. At the 2013 International Defense Industry Fair, held in Istanbul, the Altay received interest from both Azerbaijan and Saudi Arabia. It is expected to enter service by 2015.

However, even with the commendable advances made in production in recent years, the challenges of reaching the Ministry of Defense goals are reluctantly acknowledged by key players within the industry. “Despite the fact that the industry is performing well in increasing exports, at its current pace this will not be sufficient to offset the drop in local demand," noted General Manager of Savronik Elektronik Hikmet Arif Topcuoğlu in conversation with TBY, “The challenge will be to utilize these years to penetrate international markets with innovative products." For products that Turkey is yet unable to manufacture with certainty, such as with long-range air and anti-missile systems, imports will continue to play a major role. Deciding which country to buy from, however, has emerged as a more complex issue than in times past. Though Turkey's ASELSAN has been considered for the tender, the government made the controversial decision of favoring a Chinese deal over other options in September of 2013. The Chinese T-LORAMIDS system was chosen instead of the US Raytheon and joint French and Italian Eurosam SAMP/T.

This choice, however, is no longer certain, as 1Q2014 saw the departure of head of procurement agency SSM Murad Bayer to become a senior advisor to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Until the restructuring of the SSM is complete, no definitive selection can be made for acquisitions on this scale, and the missile tender has been re-scheduled to mid-2014.