TURNING A NEW LEAF

Turkey 2020 | INDUSTRY | FOCUS

Over the last decade, local defense companies have expanded beyond the domestic market to become international arms exporters, with a rapidly growing clientele in Southeast Asia.

The Turkish defense industry saw its arms exports rise 170% between 2014 and 2018, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. This is the direct result of decades of investment and R&D that has helped Turkey's defense companies fine-tune products to grow beyond domestic security demands.
Well-established arms manufacturers are developing their export markets by appealing to international clients in Africa, Asia, and beyond with high-quality arms that tend to be more affordable than those from competing weapons exporters. Turkish weapons have particularly attracted interest in countries like Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, helping the industry diversify beyond traditional customers in the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Caucasus.
“In the coming period of 10 years, Turkey will become one of the leading defense exporters in the Asia Pacific region,” Arda Mevlütoğlu, a defense industry analyst, told the Nikkei Asian Review, noting that Turkey's long-held ambition to create an indigenous arms industry has been achieved, and the nation is increasingly looking for opportunities outside its borders.
Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) is currently finalizing the sale of 30 multi-purpose ATAK helicopters to Pakistan. The USD1.5-billion deal, when confirmed, will be the largest sale to date for the Turkish defense industry. At the same time, defense electronics maker ASELSAN is delivering remote-controlled turret guns to the Malaysian coast guard as well as 5,000 night-vision devices to the Philippines army.
Such developments have helped Turkey increase weapon sales from USD245 million in 2017 to USD364 million in 2018. Behind the rapid expansion is the country's streamlined production and export of arms. In the last five years, Turkish weapons companies have exported aviation equipment, high-tech defense vehicles, and armed personnel carriers.
Turkish-made helicopters and unmanned surveillance drones have also garnered high interest due to their extended endurance at medium altitudes. TAI CEO Temel Kotil said the company had confirmed contracts in Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand, South Korea, and the Philippines.
In recent decades, Turkey's membership in NATO has helped its defense companies benefit from production licenses and technology transfers. Western defense companies such as the US' Lockheed Martin, Italy's Leonardo, and the UK's BAE Systems have worked closely with Turkish weapons manufactures on a variety of joint production projects, spurring the growth of the Turkish defense industry.
On the back of these recent developments, Turkish arms exports are expected to increase rapidly through 2028, as domestic manufacturers have already established production systems to meet new orders rapidly. Kerim Kemahlı, CFO of Nurol Holding, said his company has worked for decades to create armored personnel carriers under the FNSS partnership, in which Nurol is currently a 51% shareholder, with BAE holding the remaining 49%.
Through the FNSS partnership, Nurol developed armor 60% lighter than steel and more durable than traditional materials, helping the company gain international clients for its vehicles. Following export agreements with Oman and Saudi Arabia, Kemahlı said the company is working with Indonesia on the joint production of a medium-weight tank and is also looking for expansion opportunities in Africa.
“We see that Africa needs considerable defense products to better equip themselves against terrorism threats. They currently have underdeveloped vehicle fleets,” Kemahlı told TBY. He also highlighted that “African armies are not sufficiently developed to use 6x6 and 6x8 vehicles, but are keener on the 4x4 vehicles, so Nurol Machinery focuses on that continent.”

Nurol and other defense companies in Turkey are keen on exploring new markets in Latin America and Southeast Asia as part of their mission to expand further and push Turkish arms industry into a new era.