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, especially exports. According to the Turkish Aerospace and Defence Industry performance report for 2022, the total turnover of the Turkish arms industry was around $9.1 billion, with exports of $3.2 billion. (These totals exclude civil aerospace). These figures were up from $8.5 billion and $2.3 billion in 2021. Total military and aerospace exports have increased from $853 million in 2010 to $4.4 billion in 2022, a five-fold increase.
Two Turkish companies were included in SIPRI’s list of the Top 100 arms producing and military service companies in the world for 2021: Aselsan, a military electronics company, in 56th place with arms sales of $2,160 million in 2022 (almost tripled since 2010), and Turkish Aerospace in 84th place with $1,200 million.
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 2021, 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, said to have continued to grow since 2019. In 2019, 28 Turkish companies exhibited at DSEI. 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, and attended, the Farnborough and Security & Policing arms fairs in 2022.
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 12th biggest exporter of major conventional weapons in the world over the period 2018-22, with deliveries up 69% compared to 2013-17.
Its biggest customers were Qatar (20% of Turkish exports), UAE (17%), and Oman (13%). All three Gulf states are absolute monarchies with terrible human rights records, and UAE has been a key part of the Saudi-led coalition waging war in Yemen. Other significant Turkish customers include Turkmenistan, Pakistan, and Ukraine.
Turkish exports of major conventional weapons consist mostly of armoured vehicles, ships, aircraft (drones) 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.
In recent years, Turkey has become a major player in the international market for armed drones, most notably with the Bayraktar TB2, developed with the assistance of UK technology for the bomb racks.
According to SIPRI, the Bayraktar has been ordered by or delivered to 20 countries worldwide up to 2022: Albania, Azerbaijan, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Iraq, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Togo, Turkmenistan, UAE, and Ukraine. Seven of these placed their first orders in 2022. It has been used to lethal effect by Azerbaijan in its war with Armenia, by Ethiopia in its brutal war against the rebellious Tigray province, and in the Libyan civil war. They have also been used by Ukraine in resisting the Russian invasion. Turkish drones remain in considerable demand, with a recent sale to Saudi Arabia, and further potential new buyers including Bosnia-Herzegovina, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Serbia, Slovakia, the United Kingdom, and Uruguay.
Turkey’s arms suppliers
Turkey was the 19th biggest importer of major conventional weapons in the world during 2018-22. Turkey’s main arms suppliers during this period were Italy (35%), Spain (20%), and Russia (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 pan-European A-400M military transport aircraft, for which Turkey is a major customer.
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 was expected from 2022.