TBY talks to İsmail Demir, Head of the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM), on defense exports, government programs, and the role of SMEs within the defense industry.

İsmail Demir
İsmail Demir earned his bachelors degree from Aeronautical Engineering Department of Istanbul Technical University (ITU) in 1982. He earned two Master of Science degrees in the US and completed his Doctoral degree in Mechanical Engineering at Washington State University. He worked at various universities and research institutes in Saudi Arabia, the U.S.A. and Canada between 1992 and 2003. At the end of 2003, he was appointed Training Director of Turkish Airlines. He served as Senior Technical Officer (vice-CEO) of Turkish Airlines from 2005 to May 2006, when he was appointed Chief Executive Officer of Turkish Airlines Inc., Dr. Demir was appointed undersecretary of the defense industry of Turkey in April 2014.

SSM aims for $25 billion in aviation and defense exports by 2023. Which products, and which export markets, are most important for achieving this aim?

Our main target is to ensure progress and the development of the defense industry. In this respect, our country's vision for 2023 is a motivation source for us. By 2023, our aim is $5 billion in exports in defense, $10 billion exports in aviation, $5 billion exports in security, and $5 billion exports in civil aviation services and maintenance sub-sectors. We consider that our indigenous development approach and related R&D infrastructure will provide significant support in boosting exports to $25 billion by 2023. Thanks to a range of undertaken national, multinational, and joint defense industry projects, SSM has become a highly skilled community consisting of large scale main contractors, numerous sub-system manufacturers, SMEs, R&D companies that are involved in high-tech, niche areas, research institutes, and universities. From the perspective of product portfolio, today the Turkish defense industry has proven itself in numerous areas from aerospace, naval shipbuilding, tracked and wheeled armored vehicles, to satellite systems, armaments and munitions, missiles, rocketry, as well as advanced defense electronics. Through the initiatives set out in our strategic plan, we expect Turkish industry, with its growing indigenous capabilities and increased role in international partnerships, to expand into new emerging markets in different parts of the world.

The Altay MBT will at first utilize a foreign-built engine, to later be replaced by an indigenous product. How is work in this area progressing?

We have signed a contract with TÜMOSAN A.Ş. for the development of a diesel engine for our national tank. This program includes the local design and development, prototype production, test, and qualification of a diesel engine for our national tank and the program will be completed in 54 months. Also, as part of SSM's technology acquisition roadmap, we signed, in December 2012, a contract with Tusaş Motor Sanayi [TEI] for the production of prototype engines for the Anka unmanned air vehicle. We are also planning to sign a contract with TEI for the development of a turboshaft engine for our indigenous light utility helicopter program before the end of 2015.

What is the status of the Joint Strike Fighter Program?

Turkey is making solid progress in the Joint Strike Fighter Program. In 2014 we placed our first procurement order for two jets after the Defense Industry Executive's (DIEC) decision and, in January 2015, DIEC made the decision to order another four additional jets in line with Turkey's procurement plan. Turkish industrial participation in the program is also essential both for the production and sustainment phases. In December, the US government selected Turkey as the first F135 heavy engine MRO&U center for the European region. We are expecting more sustained work for Turkey to serve globally for the benefits of F-35 users and our Pilot and Maintainer Integrated Training Center will be operational by 2019. As a partner nation, Turkey is committed to the program and continues to add value to the affordability targets of the partnership.

What role do you see SMEs playing in the future of the Turkish defense sector?

The defense sector is heavily dependent on R&D in the search for ways of countering current and expected threats. It is composed of a small number of large international players and a vast number of smaller suppliers. The supplier industry is largely made up of SMEs. Together with system manufacturers, the sub-systems and supplier industry can manage to maintain a robust development and supply chain to offer the world's top-range products. SME involvement is an important component of our activities. The key to maintaining the efficiency of SMEs lies in creating a sound environment for innovative and internationally successful companies to work in. For SMEs this includes, for example, sufficient financial back up to compensate for program risks or delays or being considered as partners in research and technology projects. As such, there must be consistent support for creating framework conditions.