Though embattled by recent corruption scandals, the Turkish government continues to reshape the civilian-military balance in procurement decisions, proposing to extend the terms of commanders it deems “government-friendly.”
A draft bill proposed to Parliament Jan. 21 empowers Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to extend the terms of top brass. It states that the terms of the commanders of the Land Forces, Navy and Air Force may be extended “upon recommendation by the chief of General Staff and endorsement by the prime minister.”
If passed, the bill could keep the incumbents in office until 2016-’17 (depending on the commander’s retirement age), including Army Gen. Necdet Ozel, chief of the General Staff.
Experts and industry sources agreed that an annual reshuffle in August underscored a visible shift in power from the generals to civilians in controlling defense procurement.
They said the new command structure featured generals who would fully respect the government’s authority in procurement and politics, agreeing to retreat to a minimal role in specifying requirements and choosing bidders.
The Supreme Military Council, which is led by Erdogan and decides on promotions and retirements of top military officers, announced in August the unexpected retirement of the country’s paramilitary gendarmarie force commander, Gen. Bekir Kalyoncu, who had been the leading candidate to take over Land Forces. Kalyoncu was viewed as a government critic.
Instead, Gen. Hulusi Akar was given the job and, according to custom, would be expected to replace Ozel as armed forces chief in 2015. But under the new law, he could remain longer.
In the same reshuffle, Vice Adm. Bulent Bostanoglu was appointed commander of the Navy, Lt. Gen. Akin Ozturk as head of the Air Force, and Gen. Servet Yoruk as commander of the gendarmarie.
“The government and military wings of the procurement mechanism have been working in perfect harmony and coordination,” a senior procurement official said Jan. 27. The official would not comment on the draft bill.
In the 1990s, the generals had the upper hand in procurement decisions. Since Erdogan rose to power in 2002 and subsequently won three landslide election victories, the military’s role in politics and procurement has diminished.
“The draft bill clearly indicates Erdogan’s intentions to maintain the favorable procurement [and political] equilibrium in which he feels safe and can run his one-man show,” one London-based Turkey specialist said.
A senior Turkish military officer declined to comment.
In October 2012, Erdogan’s government introduced new rules to regulate procurement and broaden the jurisdiction and administrative powers of the civilian procurement agency, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM). Under the new rules, a program takes off when a military request for a weapon system has been approved by the SSM and the defense minister.
The SSM is solely responsible for determining the ideal modality for every procurement program. It also can buy from a single source when it deems necessary due to “national interest, confidentiality, monopoly of technological capabilities and meeting urgent requirements.”
Analysts said the new rules, coupled with the profile of the incumbent top brass, means the “one-man show in procurement in the powerful personality of the prime minister would be bolstered.”
“That’s precisely why Erdogan wants to have the current commanders in office longer than they could stay under the present regulations,” said one defense expert here.
Several programs and contracts spanning the next few years and amounting to billions of dollars await critical decisions.
Turkey will decide in about a year whether to stick by a September award of a $3.44 billion contract to China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corp. to build Turkey’s first long-range air and anti-missile defense architecture.
Turkey has come under increasing pressure from its NATO allies, especially the US, to change course. The Chinese contractor is on a US sanctions list as part of the Iran, Syria and North Korea Non-Proliferation Act. Turkey has said it would turn to European and US bidders if talks with the Chinese contender fail.
Under Erdogan, the procurement bureaucracy also will decide whether to sign an $800 million contract with Sedef, an Istanbul shipyard partnered with Spain’s Navantia to build Turkey’s first landing platform dock ship; select another shipyard to construct four Milgem corvettes; decide whether to sign a multibillion-dollar deal with Sikorsky to buy utility helicopters; pick up a serial production contractor for the locally developed Altay new-generation main battle tank; and decide on Turkey’s future in the US-led F-35 program.