The AKP is very proud of its efforts to jump start Turkey’s local defense industry. According to the AKP’s 2023 Political Vision:
One of the requirements of our vision to become a regional leader and global player is to make our military defense system more efficient, deterrent and modern. Our national defense industry needs to further develop so that our armed forces can maximize its military capabilities. Our defense industry has vastly expanded under AK Party governments. Gone is the time when Turkey was unable to manufacture even a simple rifle; today, we are capable of producing our own tanks. We have established the infrastructure for a national tank called “ALTAY”. We have also begun test flights for our nationally produced UAVs called “ANKA” that can go up to 10 thousand meters and stay in the air for 24 hours. Part of our 2023 Turkey Vision is to be able to manufacture our major defense needs by ourselves [sic].
The Altay project, according to press reports, relies heavily on technology transferred from South Korea’s Hyundai Rotem. Therefore, the armor, the main gun, and the tank’s capabilities will closely mimic South Korea’s K-2 main battle tank. The Turkish – South Korea deal included provisions for Hyundai’s assistance with the modernization of Otokar’s tank production facility in Sakarya and Aselsan’s development of the fire control system.
The South Korean defense minster added at the signing ceremony:
The signing of the contract on the ROK-Turkey technology cooperation in tank development is expected to greatly help boost the cooperation between the two countries in the defense industry sector, while the Ministry of Defense and the DAPA plan to provide full support to ensure smooth technology cooperation throughout the entire process of tank development from designing to production and testing.
Critically, the ROK offered to transfer to Turkey critical technology for the tank’s design and development. The desire for access to technology was also the primary reason why Turkey opted to contract with the Israelis for the modernization of its American made M-60 tank in 2000. The United States, which was interested in the M-60 deal, was unwilling to transfer design information, prompting Turkey to turn to Israel. The issue of tech transfer (As I have noted here), was likely to be one of the reasons for Turkey’s recent decision to cancel its missile defense tender. Raytheon and Lockheed Martin’s refusal to transfer technology for the Patriot PAC-3, and their rumored insistence on black boxing (meaning that the system is built in such a way so as to prevent the replication of critical technologies), were likely deal breakers for the expensive system.
Turkey also objected to the Bush Administration’s push to incorporate more restrictive guidelines for the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) technology at the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Turkey, along with other countries, objected to the proposal to include subjective criteria for the transfer of ENR. The subjective criteria would have called on nuclear suppliers to consider whether or not the transfer of ENR would spur countries in the region to seek similar technology. Turkey argued that it is in an unstable region with a history of proliferation, thus its future nuclear program could be hindered by the proposal. Turkey also objected to the American backed black box proposal, arguing that the NSG should not deny a state in good-standing with the IAEA and NPT access to ENR technology. The new NSG rules were adopted in 2011 and did not include the subjective criteria. They did, however, give the supplying state great leeway to determine whether or not the state seeking ENR tech had a good reason to do so.
More broadly, these three different examples speak to a larger issue in Turkish domestic politics. Ankara, for some time now, is keen on awarding military contracts to suppliers willing to transfer technology to Turkish firms. In the nuclear realm, this approach prompted Ankara to take a hard line approach against efforts to black box sensitive fuel cycle facilities and to place limits on ENR transfer (If interested in how this impacted Ankara’s handling of the Iran issue, click here). Thus, you can assume that this is now quasi-official policy in Ankara.
The AKP has used these efforts, which pre-date their election, in its populist campaigning. The image of a growing Turkish defense industry fits nicely into the AKP created narrative about Turkish empowerment and growing strength. With Erdogan likely to run for the presidency in 2014, flashy pho-ops and grandiose military announcements about domestically made products are likely to be a prominent part of his campaign. Photo-ops aside, foreign defense firms willing to transfer technology are likely to have the inside track to winning future Turkish tenders. Thus, I would assume that non-traditional suppliers (South Korea being one), looking to gain a foothold in the Middle Eastern market, will win more and more Turkish tenders in the future. This is not to suggest that the United States will loose its dominant position, but the U.S. refusal, in most cases, to transfer sensitive design information on its latest weapons will be a hinderance for U.S. based suppliers.
*Prediction – my guess is that we will see ROK-Turkish cooperation on a jet fighter trainer. Tweet @aaronstein1 with your prediction if you’d like.