Turkish PM focuses on defense industry in poll campaign

An Aselsan employee working the controls of the company's AselFLIR electro-optic system.

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, is putting an unprecedented emphasis on the defense industry in its campaign for the June 12 elections. The party’s promises focus on establishing and developing a domestic industry that comes near to being self-sufficient. PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan says the capital city of Ankara will become the headquarters of the sector

Visions for the defense industry have not played a key role in election campaigns by either a ruling or opposition party ahead of previous Turkish polls. But this year, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been holding up Turkey’s developing national defense industry as one of the pillars of a modern economy in the 2020s.

In the weeks leading up to the nationwide parliamentary election that will be held June 12, Erdoğan had made three major speeches on the national defense industry.

Explaining his ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP’s, election manifesto in late April, Erdoğan pledged that Turkey’s local defense companies would manufacture indigenous “tanks, helicopters, war planes, unmanned aerial vehicles and military satellites in the next 12 years.”

The prime minister has vigorously set out a national strategy to maximize local production in Turkey’s defense programs, aiming at what he calls “near self-sufficiency.” In recent years, Turkey has practically suspended off-the-shelf purchase options, restructuring programs into local development or coproduction.

As it seeks re-election for a third term in power, the incumbent AKP government is also ambitiously planning to make Ankara, the country’s capital, into a “global defense industry base.”

In a televised speech May 25, Erdoğan said new investments would make Ankara a global defense and aerospace center catering to both local and international companies.

“Turkey’s defense industry capital is Ankara,” Erdoğan reiterated in a May 29 speech. He said local companies are targeting $8 billion in sales by 2016, $6 billion of which will come from companies based in Ankara. Two major planned investments will serve the prime minister’s goal, according to defense industry officials.

The first involves the Ankara-based powerhouse Turkish Aerospace Industries, or TAI, which already has pushed the button to build a $100 million Satellite Assembly, Integration and Test Center, or UMET.

TAI’s general manager, Muharrem Dörtkaşlı, said UMET would become operational by the end of 2012. “This will be a place where final assembly of both military and civilian satellites will be carried out with state-of-the-art technology. Also, the planned center will conduct series of tests with full space-simulation capability before satellites are launched,” Dörtkaşlı said.

Making, testing satellites

According to Erdoğan, a total of 120 engineers will be employed at the facility, where two satellites will be able to go through simultaneous production and testing. “First, we will assemble and test the Göktürk [military] satellite at the new plant,” Dörtkaşlı said.

Telespazio, a joint venture between Italy’s defense giant Finmeccanica and France’s Thales, signed a nearly 250 million-euro deal a couple of years ago to lead the effort for the Turkish military satellite. Finmeccanica has a 67 percent stake in Telespazio.

TAI was created in the late 1980s to carry out partial production and assembly of the F-16 fighter aircraft, made by the U.S. firm Lockheed Martin. In its early years, it also assembled the Spanish-made CN-235 light transport aircraft and some utility helicopters.

Now it is the prime contractor in building 60 T-129 attack helicopters developed by the Italian AgustaWestland for the Turkish Army. It also has been selected as prime contractor in Turkey’s coproduction of at least 109 T-70 utility helicopters, Turkish versions of the U.S. firm Sikorsky Aircraft’s S-70i Black Hawk International. TAI also is coproducing the KT-1 basic trainer aircraft with South Korea, developing its own basic trainer aircraft and is building Turkey’s first medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle, the Anka.

The second investment plan is for the building of a Radar and Electronic Warfare Systems center in Gölbaşı, near Ankara. The center will be built and operated by Aselsan, Turkey’s biggest defense company and a military electronics specialist.

Aselsan, also based in the capital, last year obtained a 192.5 million Turkish Liras ($130 million) investment incentive from the Treasury for the new center. Industry sources said the total cost for building the new plant would be around $200 million.

They said Aselsan plans to start production at the planned facility in 2013. Principal tasks will be the research, development, design and production of air defense radars, land radars, signal interceptors, jammers, microwave modules and various pieces of electronic warfare equipment.

Aselsan plans to transfer the 700 employees currently active at its Macunköy, Ankara, plant to the new site. There will be additional 400 engineering positions available.