The Turkish arms industry
The Turkish government regards the development of a strong domestic arms industry as a central part of its security strategy. The government pours billions of dollars each year into the industry through the Undersecretariat for the Defence Industries, and other budget funds, often with very little transparency.
The Turkish arms industry is growing rapidly. According to the Turkish Aerospace and Defence Industry performance report for 2019, the total turnover of the Turkish arms industry was just over $9 billion, with exports of $1.9 billion. (These totals exclude civil aerospace). These figures are both around 50% higher than just two years previously, in 2017.
Two Turkish companies are included in SIPRI’s list of the Top 100 arms producing and military service companies in the world for 2018, excluding China: Aselsan, a military electronics company, with arms sales of $1,740 million in 2018 (more than doubled since 2010), and Turkish Aerospace Industries, with arms sales of $1,070 million in 2018.
Turkey at UK arms fairs
Turkey is regularly invited to promote its arms industry at UK arms fairs.
A delegation from Turkey was invited to the last Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) arms fair in London in 2019, and attended as guests of the government’s arms sales unit. Turkish delegations have attended DSEI in most years, including every DSEI since 2009.
As in previous years, Turkey also had its own pavilion space inside DSEI, where 28 Turkish arms companies exhibited their wares. According to the DSEI website in 2017, the Turkish pavilion that year was doubled in size since 2015. The Turkish Defence and Aerospace Industry Exporters’ Association (SSI), was the sole “International Partner” for DSEI 2015.
Apart from DSEI, the UK government has also invited Turkey delegations to the other major defence and security exhibitions in the UK. Most recently, Turkey was invited to Farnborough 2018, and Security & Policing 2020.
In 2019, Turkish companies exhibiting at DSEI included:
- Aselsan (Military electronics)
- Femsan motors
- Havelsan (electronics, software & systems)
- MKEK (ammuntion, rifles, sub-machine guns, machine guns, howitzers, explosives)
- Nurol Holding (armoured vehicles, including FNSS joint venture with BAE Systems)
- Otokar (Military vehicles)
- TAIS Shipyards
For a developing arms industry like Turkey’s, exports are an important way of meeting the costs of design and manufacture. Events such as DSEI greatly facilitate this.
Turkey’s arms exports
According to the SIPRI Arms Transfers Database, Turkey was the 14th biggest exporter of major conventional weapons in the world over the period 2015-19, an increase of 86% compared to 2010-2014.
Its biggest customers were Turkmenistan (25% of Turkish exports), Oman (12%), and Pakistan (12%). Turkmenistan is an absolutist dictatorship with a terrible human rights record., while Oman and Pakistan both have very poor human rights records, and Pakistan has major internal conflicts. Other significant Turkish customers include Malaysia, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia.
Turkish exports of major conventional weapons consist mostly of armoured vehicles, ships, and missiles. Major recent sales include 10,000 Cirit surface-to-air missiles, 700 infantry fighting vehicles, and 11 multiple-rocket launchers to the UAE, and over 1,000 armoured personnel carriers to Saudi Arabia, types of equipment with major potential for use in Yemen.
Turkey’s arms suppliers
Turkey was the 15th biggest importer of major conventional weapons in the world during 2015-19. Turkey’s main arms suppliers during this period were the USA (38%), Italy (24%), and Spain (19%).
While the UK did not deliver any complete systems to Turkey during this period, it is an important supplier of components. In particular, the UK arms industry is a major partner in the USA’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, producing 15 percent of every plane, and the pan-European A-400M military transport aircraft. Turkey is a customer for both. (Turkey’s participation in the F-35 programme is currently suspended due to a dispute over their acquisition of Russian S-400 air defence systems).
BAE Systems is also partnering with Turkish Aerospace Industries in Turkey’s F-100 programme for the development of a domestically-designed combat aircraft.
Germany has also recently sold 70 second-hand Leopard tanks to Germany, and in 2011 agreed a contract for €2.2 – 2.5 billion for 6 Type-214 submarines, to be produced in Turkey based on German technology. Delivery of these is expected from 2022.