Turkey has stepped up its efforts to secure as much as possible of its defense procurement requirements from local manufacturers.
Turkey has long regarded the development of an indigenous defense industry as a strategic priority. Few in the Turkish military have forgotten the U.S. arms embargo that followed the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus or, more recently, the restrictions that several European countries tried to place on the use of weapons and equipment sold to Turkey during the 1990s at the height of the first insurgency of the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The perceived need to strengthen local defense companies was also the main reason for signing a defense industry cooperation agreement with Israel in 1996, although the hopes of many in the military that the agreement would lead to the “back door” transfer of U.S. technology to Turkey ultimately came to nothing. In recent years, defense industry ties between Israel and Turkey have been further overshadowed by allegations of graft and substandard work by Israeli defense firms.
However, attempts to strengthen the Turkish defense industry have traditionally been frustrated by a combination of limited technology and high costs. Even when it has been technically possible for Turkish companies to produce something with their own resources, the high cost has frequently meant that it has been considerably cheaper to buy off the shelf solutions from abroad.
Yesterday (December 5), Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul announced that, for the first time, Turkey would develop its own infantry rifles and automatic rifles. Speaking after a meeting of the Defense Industry Executive Committee, which oversees all defense procurement in Turkey, Gonul said that he expected the 5.56-millimeter rifles to be ready within two years.
Gonul also announced that Turkey would build four frigates at a projected cost of $1.6 billion. He added that the frigates would be entirely produced in Turkish shipyards by Turkish firms.
In addition, Gonul said that the committee had decided to make Aselsan, Turkey’s largest defense company, the main contractor for a €50 million project to install an underwater/above water surveillance and detection system at the Aksaz and Foca naval bases, with Kongsberg of Norway named as the subcontractor. Gonul said that Turkey would also buy a total of 16 Penguin missiles for its Seahawk helicopters from Kongsberg at a cost of approximately $40 million.
In the weeks leading up to the meeting, press attention had focused primarily on Turkey’s plans to launch an electro-optical reconnaissance and surveillance satellite system, code-named Gokturk. Gokturk will be produced in country under license and will be Turkey’s first military reconnaissance and surveillance satellite. Currently, Turkey’s only access to such information is through its commercial satellites, U.S. and Israeli resources and NATO assets. Following an agreement reached in the White House on November 5 (see EDM, November 6), the United States is believed to have increased the amount of intelligence it now provides to Turkey on the PKK. However, Turkey remains keen to have its own satellite reconnaissance and surveillance capability. In 1998 Turkey reached a preliminary agreement with Alcatel of France to launch a military satellite, although the project was scrapped in the wake of the French parliament’s decision to characterize the killings of Armenians in the final years of the Ottoman Empire as genocide.
The Gokturk project comprises three parts: an electro-optical surveillance satellite, a permanent land station, and a mobile land station. The successful bidder will be expected both to manufacture the satellite and guarantee placing it in orbit. The terms of the contract tender specify that the satellite must be able to be used to gather military intelligence from any place in the world without geographical restriction. Turkey originally hoped that the satellite would be in orbit by 2008. However, the launch is now expected to take place in 2011.
Four companies originally submitted bids. Yesterday Gonul announced that Turkey was breaking off negotiations with one of the bidders, Israeli Aerospace Industries. No reason for the decision was given, although the Turkish media has speculated that it was the result of Israeli restrictions on the use of military satellites over its own airspace (Zaman, December 6). Gonul said that negotiations would continue with the other three bidders: EADS Astrium (UK), OHB-System (Germany), and Telespazio (Italy).
Gonul added that Turkey would cancel an existing tender for a multipurpose helicopter but would conduct talks with Sikorsky of the United States and AgustaWestland (Italy/UK) for the procurement of over 80 helicopters for the Turkish Armed Forces (CNNTurk, NTV, December 5, Zaman, December 6).