Greetings to the Saker community and readers.
It seems a long time ago when back in 2003, then Prime Minister Erdogan presented the “National Manifesto”, a document outlining his vision of establishing Turkey as a great power and set the target of achieving this by 2023 (100 years of Turkish Republic). A pillar of this plan was not only the modernization Turkey’s armed forces but the independence on all key defence sectors. To this extend, Turkey has invested huge sums of money in its internal Military-Industrial Complex (MIC)
The results of these investments were very evident this year in IDEF exhibition. IDEF is the bi-annual defence expo and the 2017 edition took place between May 9th – 12th in Istanbul. There, the cream of Turkey’s MIC was present, exhibiting all kinds of projects from assault rifles and mobile artillery to ballistic missiles (look up Roketsan Khan / Bora systems) and railguns. Below are a few videos with a small portion of what has been displayed:
Most notable projects by Turkey’s MIC presented in IDEF 2017 are:
- Kahn / Bora ballistic missile: Roketsan is already marketing the Khan missile and has Bora development well under way. Khan is a short range ballistic missile (SRBM) with reported range around 280Kmwhile Bora is rumoured to have a target range in excess of 1000Km. To showcase the maturity of the system, Roketsan performed a demo launch during the duration of the IDEF 2017: https://youtu.be/8uCe70aG8zU
A crude calculation by a Turkish journalist of how far current ballistic missiles by Turkey can hit. Note the mistake that the launchers are assumed to be at the “front line”, namely right on Turkey’s borders – ballistic missiles are never used in such manner.
- TF-X stealth fighter: Turkey plans to use its expertise gained by its status as partner in the F-35 to build an indigenous stealth fighter plane. To say that this is not a small task is an understatement; very few countries can build decent fighter planes and even fewer decent jet engines. As an example, China with all its industrial, financial and technological might still struggles to design and build indigenous capable engines for its fighters. Turkish leadership understands this which is why they approached the UK and signed an agreement for cooperation on the matter. Also note that Turkey, under the F-35 programme is scheduled to be the sole engine maintainer for all users of the type in Europe; something for which the UK already protested and plans to setup their own maintenance centre. Another aspect for this programme is that Aseslan is developing a GaN (Gallium Nitrate) AESA radar for use with the plane. This type of radar is considered cutting edge.
- Short and medium range air to air missiles: Turkey wants to augment at first stage and ultimately replace the AIM-9 and AIM-120 missiles in its inventory with indigenous missiles so that it will no longer depend to the good will of the USA for export of the latest models and for support of the current inventory. The problems here are astute: it takes a lot of expertise to build a modern air to air missile, especially its guidance system. Equally difficult will be integration to current aircraft in Turkey’s inventory; it is impossible for the US to release the source code of the F-16 (let alone the F-35) to the Turks so that they can upgrade the software on the planes for use with their missiles. Most likely Turkey will probably work around this by either using the “generic air to air missile” mode or by telling the computer that a known missile is loaded (say AIM-9) whereas the Turkish equivalent is on the plane. These work arounds however will have an impact on the missile performance. The very fact that Turkey is trying to develop a missile of the AIM-120 class has raised quite a few eyebrows around the world.
- TF4500 stealth frigate, MilDEN submarines and TCG Anadolu: More ambitious programmes, this time for the Turkish navy. The idea here is to use the experience gained by building Type 214 AIP submarines for the Turkish navy and use that experience to design and build a new class of boats. Another herculean task for Turkey’s MIC; building a submarine under license and designing one on your own are two different kinds of animal. However, Germany wants to use the shipyards in Turkey to build another additional Type 214 subs should they get an order from Indonesia. If that happens, essentially the production line for subs will stay open and funds will come in to be used on the MilDEN programme. Pakistan also agreed to buy four MILGEM Block I corvettes from Turkey. As for the TCG Anadolu it is essentially a Navantia LPD/LHD design which Turkey plans to modify to a light aircraft carrier (you can see images of the model ship here: https://www.ptisidiastima.com/idef-2017-tcg-anadolu/).
- Altay tank entering low production: Here Turkey faces significant problems with the powerplants for these tanks. Initially they were going to use MTU engines however after the deterioration in Turkey’s relationship with the EU in recent months there is an informal embargo on export licenses for military technology. Also, Turkey’s negotiations with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries failed to reach an agreement. Therefore, Turkey turned to Ukraine and around March signed an MoU for the supply of a Ukrainian engine for the Altay with emphasis on unconditional export rights.
What could be observed in IDEF 2017 is the willingness of Turkey to direct a significant portion of its economy in the defence industry and its ambition to become a potential super power. To secure at least partial funding, Turkey is presenting itself as the leading Muslim arms producer and exporter, targeting Muslim countries which either do not have the technology to produce such systems or are otherwise unable to procure directly from the source in which case Turkey acts as the middle man.
Turkey’s desire to expedite R&D is evident by trying to get as much technology transfer for each weapons system it purchases as well as full resale rights. Moreover, Turkey is smart enough to draw in countries with experience that at the same time are in need of friends / cash, like Ukraine with which they signed a deal in IDEF 2017 for joint development of a maritime aircraft based on An-132. It is no secret that Turkey’s recent love with the S400 air defence complex is stemming from a desire to create a copy (the feasibility of such a task is highly questionable). Previous attempts to buy the Chinese HQ-9 failed and Lockheed did offer to Turkey the MEADS system to cover its long-range air defence needs. One has to question Turkey’s motives behind the attempts at HQ-9 and now the S400. While the S400 is a superb complex, for a country with an integrated air defence system solely built using NATO standards and equipment S400 will stick out like a sore thumb due to the inability to connect with the rest of the network.
Turkey is also actively trying to repatriate Turkish scientists and engineers that work abroad and the involvement of its universities and research centres in these projects is standard practise; Aseslan for example is teaming up with Bilkent university for the AESA radar it develops I mentioned earlier. This practice has long term benefits as it helps to create a core of competent engineers familiar with the workings of the MIC and the projects under way.
The bet for Turkey is to find a balance between ambition and reality; after all history has proven that funds and time are not limitless and the perception of Turkey by its neighbours, its friends and its allies will not always stay the same. As a conclusion, these ambitions go beyond Erdogan; no man lives forever and considering his age he probably has another 15-20 years on front of him being a functional leader. Most of these programmes will be just entering production by that time (if at all) therefore one should focus on Turkey’s long term strategy.