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LINK TO FULL ARTICLE In 2017, Turkey’s Ministry of Defence released its latest five-year Strategic Plan, which identifies the priority procurement programs for that country’s military. With defence expenditures in 2019 estimated at 1.89% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – just below the 2.00% threshold that only nine of Turkey’s fellow NATO members currently meet – these procurement programs hold global significance. However, how applicable is the Strategic Plan to Turkey’s current strategic context? Could some recalibration be necessary ahead of the introduction of the next Strategic Plan next year? After all, since 2017, ISIS has lost its territory, and Turkey has shifted its attention to Bashar al-Assad’s Russia-backed forces. Turkey also was kicked out of the F-35 program because of the four batteries of Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air missile systems, which have been delivered to Turkey over US objections.
NOTES FOR ARTICLE A Turkish government whitepaper shaping the next five years of defense procurement sees more efforts to maximize local input in the country’s thriving programs, now mostly indigenous. Turkish Defence Minister Fikri Isik defines the plan’s goal as making the Turkish industry “a global player with technological superiority.”
The 124-page Strategic Plan for 2017-2021 was prepared by Turkey’s defense procurement agency, the Undersecretariat for Defence Industries, or SSM in its Turkish acronym. It boasts that the annual turnover in Turkey’s defense and aerospace industry rose from $1.3 billion in 2002 to $5 billion now, and exports from $247 million to $1.655 billion.
The whitepaper says the “priority programs” in the next five years would include an effort to develop and build an indigenous, light-weight helicopter; drones and engines for drones; a fighter jet (TF-X); a new-generation main battle tank (Altay); conventional and anti-tank missiles; armored vehicles; a basic trainer aircraft with assault capabilities; coast guard and patrol boats; radars, electronic systems and flight simulators; corvettes and frigates; and a mine-resistant, ambush-protected armored vehicle (Kirpi). Other planned indigenous programs for the period up to 2021 include rockets, torpedoes, smart ammunition and artillery guns. SSM currently administers about 400 different arms programs. “For full operational independence it is essential to develop local platforms and subsystems,” the report concludes.
It also envisages the construction of a layered air and anti-ballistic missile defense capability “with maximum local input.”
For space efforts, the plan calls for local work in design, production and testing capabilities for platforms.
Ankara also thinks boosting defense exports would be critical in enhancing the local industry. “Different financing methods will be devised to increase local companies’ international competitiveness,” the report reads.
Another means to support the local industry, according to the whitepaper, will be to award prototype development and production work to more than one contractor.
“This is a new approach,” an industry source noted, as most Turkish programs commission one manufacturer to develop and build prototypes.
With the new plan, the government promises to increase support for research and development work, now standing at an annual $900 million, and encourage technology transfer and subsidized intermediary goods to help boost exports. Government departments will be encouraged to buy local systems when they can choose.
“All that is in line with the government’s primary goal of enhancing the local industry,” said Turgut Senol, CEO for RBSS, an armored vehicles venture between Turkey’s BMC, Germany’s Rheinmetall and Malaysia’s Etika. “The plan aims to create a momentum whereby the local industry sells more [locally and to export markets], further flourishes, then invests in new technologies and sells more. … A kind of productive cycle.”
The strategy paper also mentions critical dates for some of the country’s leading programs. For instance, it claims a serial production contract for the Altay tank program would be signed this year. At least three local companies including the Altay’s prototype maker, Otokar, are expected to compete for the first batch of the serial production phase, at 250 units. The Altay program involves an eventual production of 1,000 tanks.
The paper goes on to say Turkey’s indigenous light-weight helicopter, being developed by the aerospace major Tusas Turkish Aerospace Industries, will make its maiden flight in 2018.
Some other critical dates include: