Turkey’s growing domestic arms industry

Cartoon by Tjeerd Royaards.

Cartoon by Tjeerd Royaards.

Back in 2013, after Turkey was criticized for the police brutality employed during its crackdown of demonstrators, there were international calls to suspend shipments of tear gas to Turkey, since police were using them against unarmed crowds, sometimes causing casualties. In response to this attempt to, albeit mildly, sanction it for its behaviour Turkey considered domestically produce tear gas, so it would not be susceptible to outside pressure to amend its policies.

This was an interesting reaction. Since the war began in Syria, Turkey has made many questionable moves, in its bid to bring the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad to bear Turkey backed many questionable Islamist groups. Indeed for quite some time it acquiesced to the rise of the likes of Islamic State (ISIS) and Jabhat al-Nusra since they were opposed to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK)-affiliated Syrian Kurdish groups and were also believed by Ankara to be a lesser evil to that group and the Assad regime. Indeed it didn’t even join the US-led campaign against ISIS until July 2015, just under a year after that campaign began.

Its shooting down of a Russian bomber last November has seen it pay a heavy price in loss of business with a hitherto major trading partner — the vast majority of Turkey’s gas, for example, was imported from Russia. The instability caused by increased ISIS attacks on its cities, coupled with renewed war with the PKK, arguably caused by Ankara’s unwillingness to go the extra mile to bring about a lasting peace arrangement, has also alienated tourists and further damaged Turkey’s economy and its image. However the more Ankara feels the pressure the more it perceives itself to be the victim. Which is why it is stubbornly determined not to amend its policies, even if those policies cause it harm.

There is a good chance that the recent deal between Turkey and the European Union aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Turkey to the latter, in return for Brussels granting visa-free travel to Turkish citizens, could fall through given the fact Turkey doesn’t want to reform its anti-terror laws which are ambiguous and sweeping and seen as Ankara’s way of legalizing crackdowns on dissent.

The 2013 tear gas story is worth referring to and may give some indication to broader Turkish efforts in the future. Rather than amend its questionable domestic policies Turkish officials sought to ensure that outsiders could not pressure it to use less brutal tactics by producing the necessary tools to do so.

There is a hidden civil war going on in the southeast region of Turkey after a two-and-a-half-year-long peace process between the Turkish government and various Kurdish insurgent groups failed. During a military operation by the Turkish Armed Forces against PKK fighters, which started in December 2015 and lasted for months, several houses in the in the southeastern town of Cizre in Sirnak province were heavily damaged.


There is a hidden civil war going on in the southeast region of Turkey after a two-and-a-half-year-long peace process between the Turkish government and various Kurdish insurgent groups failed. During a military operation by the Turkish Armed Forces against PKK fighters, which started in December 2015 and lasted for months, several houses in the in the southeastern town of Cizre in Sirnak province were heavily damaged.

On the military front it appears this may become also soon turn out to be the case. Perceiving itself to be threatened by terrorists on the home front and viewing itself as the destined and rightful regional power, Turkey cannot be seen as dependent on outside powers to arm its military, which may be one reason why its pursuing the domestic production of a variety of armaments.

Turkey is producing the Altay main battle tank. It hopes to put it into service in the Turkish Army by 2018 and also export other models. Next year they will begin building 250 of the tanks which will cost around $2 billion. Two similar sized batches are likely to be in the pipeline too. Mass production of these tanks could gradually replace Turkey’s inventory of US-made M48 (according Military Balance 2016 around 2’850 pieces) and M60 tanks (about 930 pieces) and its European Leopard tanks (397 Leopard 1 and 325 Leopard 2).

In the sky Turkey has plans to build a fifth-generation air superiority fighter jet called the TAI TFX. It is expected to gradually replace Turkey’s US-made fleet of F-16’s (about 260 aircrafts). In this case however there are doubts the plane will fly by 2023.

When Turkey perceives itself to be right and the world to be wrong when it comes to its policies its willing to alienate the latter, which is what it did when it intervened forcefully in Cyprus in 1974, an action which led to the US imposing an arms embargo on Ankara. No matter, it got to pursue a policy it believed to be right regardless of what the outside world thought about it … and of course if you have an arms industry which can produce weapons and ammunition that significantly lessens the impact of an arms embargo. As Turkey grows more forceful and aggressive in pursuing policies it deems to be justified possessing a largely domestic military arsenal could well prove to be a major asset and enabler for its controversial military and police policies, both foreign and domestic.

This entry was posted in Armed Forces, English, International, Security Policy, Technology, Turkey.

3 Responses to Turkey’s growing domestic arms industry

  1. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated Turkey’s goal of self-sufficiency in defense as he launched a new warship, the TCG Burgazada, an indigenously produced corvette, at the Istanbul naval shipyard, on Saturday, June 18, 2016. Erdogan said Turkey would soon “be in a position to make our own aircraft carriers. Turkey, especially, cannot stall on defense industry and military issues because of our strategic geographical location.”

    The Burgazada is the third Ada-class corvette produced under the MILGEM project. The first was the Heybeliada, launched in 2008 — the second was the Büyükada, launched in 2011.

    Source: Nuran Tuncay and Halil Ibrahim Baser, “Turkey launches latest corvette“, Anadolu Agency, 18.06.2016.

  2. The Turkish government is expected to announce a bidding for the serial production of hundreds of Altays, Turkey’s first indigenous, new generation main battle tank. The Altay program involves the production of 1,000 tanks, with an initial bath of 250. The bidding is expected to open in the next few months.

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