After the Turkish military complex has so far been dependent on importing technology from the US and EU states in order to be present in the region as a NATO partner and geostrategic giant, the rearmament plans under President Erdogan are aimed to be independent from other countries.
In the eyes of the head of state on the Bosporus, Türkiye should become self-sufficient in armaments technology. Instead of relying on weapon imports, a powerful armaments industry is being built up. This includes the production of drones, tanks, fighter jets, howitzers and warships. There is also increased cooperation with East Asia, and Putin’s Russia has also played a more important role in the past.
Only recently did Erdogan hand over Turkish Firtina II howitzers to his armed forces. He also announced that the foundation stone for a factory for the long-awaited series production of the Turkish Altay main battle tank will soon be laid.
For Erdogan, 2023 is the ideal time to show military strength, especially for his domestic politics. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Türkiye. Erdogan wants to present his country to the world public and its own people as a top player in the armaments industry, and high state investments are being made towards this goal. The forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections this year also play a role in this, so he can perhaps score points with the electorate who are no longer convinced of him.
The Turkish President has chosen the Istanbul International Armaments Fair (IDEF), which is scheduled for May 9-12, to present the new achievements. It is intended to be the stage on which Türkiye presents its latest developments. Unlike the parliamentary and presidential elections, which are scheduled for May 14 and are speculated about their postponement, the IDEF wants to stick to its schedule for the time being despite the earthquake disaster.
In 2021 – i.e. before the Ukraine war – Türkiye invested significantly more in armaments than many other European countries, at 2.1 percent of gross domestic product. The country thus exceeded the NATO target of two percent. Experts from the Stockholm-based think tank “Sipri” name two companies – Aselsan and Turkish Aerospace – among the world’s top 100 defense companies. For example, while the German government only began to fill serious gaps in the weapons depots with the Ukraine war and a special budget of 100 billion, Türkiye took a different path years ago.
Erdogan can already point to respectable successes in the arms market. For example, Bayraktar TB2 combat and reconnaissance drones from the manufacturer Baykar were delivered to Ukraine in the war against the Russian armed forces. The Turkish company recently also made the first flight of the almost 15-meter-long Kizilelma jet combat drone, which is even supposed to land unmanned on a military ship in the future. This drone should be operational this year.
Türkiye will also have a say in the market for combat aircraft in the future. The “Milli Muharip Ucak” model is expected to be presented to the world public next month. It will take some time before the twin-engine fighter jet is operational, but Türkiye is sending a signal. Another national pride should become the unmanned combat aircraft “Kizielma”. Its name, the “red apple”, stands in history for the imperial aspirations of the Turks. It completed its 18-minute maiden flight on December 14, 2022. The company, owned by Selcuk Bayraktar, a son-in-law of President Erdogan, was known for developing combat drones, particularly the Turkish export hit TB2. Two years ago, Baykar started building Kizielma. It is a sign that Türkiye is no longer a follower, but a co-creator of history, said Erdogan’s son-in-law.
The engine comes from Ukraine. With a weight of 6,000 kilograms, Kizielma is to carry a payload of 1,500 kilograms, and only Turkish ammunition is to be used. Baykar received support from the Defense Production Authority (SSB), which reports to the Ministry of Defense. According to industry sources, Kizielma is also intended as an alternative to the manned F16 fighter jets. One of the special features of the fighter jet project is that Türkiye was originally involved in the construction of the modern US stealth jet F-35, which other NATO partners also ordered from the Americans. But when Ankara installed Russian anti-aircraft systems in the country, the United States renounced Türkiye’s participation in the F-35, thereby pushing the development of its own Turkish jet.
Türkiye can celebrate successes in building up its own armaments industry, but not everything comes from its own production. Furthermore, many key components have to be supplied. This is also evident in the case of the Altay main battle tank with its long history of development. The core of the tank is based on the South Korean model “K2 Black Panther” from the manufacturer Hyundai Rotem. The Asians are already among the world leaders in tank building. For example, Poland has recently ordered the K2 from Hyundai to expand its tank fleet not only in the US, but also.
European partners from the armaments industry were also involved in the development, for example Rheinmetall from Düsseldorf in Germany. However, the cooperation was quickly terminated because the German armaments giant did not receive an export license for key components from the German government. Companies like the British Rolls Royce also said goodbye to the armament project, although their technology was also installed in the first prototypes. The upswing in the Turkish armaments industry is therefore also closely linked to the sanctions and arms embargoes imposed by NATO states against Türkiye, which itself belongs to the western defense alliance, as a reaction to the bloody civil war against the Kurdish PKK, which has since been banned. Because the other states did not deliver any key technology for new armaments projects, Erdogan had to tap other sources. The first models of the Turkish main battle tank Altay get an engine from South Korea.
Even if President Erdogan’s goal of making Türkiye one of the ten leading economic nations is clearly missed, numerous projects will be completed or at least advanced by the anniversary on October 29th, most of which the Turks are proud of. According to Erdogan, this should include the domestic armaments industry in particular. The devastating earthquake catastrophe in eastern Türkiye and the Erdogan government’s responsibility in dealing with it can now confuse Erdogan’s plans. He can now be even less sure that he will use prestige objects to publicize his personal future, investing heavily in the armaments industry while tens of thousands of his compatriots have lost their lives.
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