Finally, Turkey seeks to strengthen its own arms exports. Beyond the obvious economic benefits, arms sales are a key way in which Ankara can develop close and long-lasting relationships with customers, with an expectation of better relations overall. For instance, Turkey has worked to enhance its ties with Gulf Cooperation Council countries, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and it is no surprise that these states are primary targets for Ankara's arms export ambitions as well.
The Drive for Development
Bolstering Turkey's local arms trade is President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's established passion — something he hopes will accelerate the national defense industry, too. Constitutional reforms passed in Turkey's April 2016 referendum greatly increased Erdogan's oversight and control of defense procurement. The presidency, for instance, now oversees the Defense Industry Executive Committee, which is the ultimate arbiter of defense procurement projects. These statutory changes will undoubtedly drive Turkey's aspirations in the armaments sector forward.
The Turkish government wants to establish a respectable industry based around a wide array of defense projects — some of which Erdogan has a keen interest in — from maritime vessels to army vehicles to aerospace projects. In the naval sphere, Turkish defense industries including Istanbul Shipyard and Golcuk Naval Shipyard are close to securing warship and submarine contracts worth billions of dollars with countries such as Pakistan, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, Turkish defense electronics producer Aselsan already exports its products to more than 60 countries globally. Nurol Machinery, a growing Turkish armored vehicle producer, experienced a twentyfold rise in sales over a four-year span and has begun to sell its armored vehicles on the export market. These are just some of the Turkish defense companies, big and small, that are increasing their production portfolios as they take advantage of the government's effort to enhance the Turkish defense industry.
Even with the increase in arms export orders, however, the largest market by far for Turkish defense companies is the Turkish government. The Turkish military not only is adding capabilities it never had before, but is also working to replace large stocks of aging Cold War-era equipment across its force structure. For instance, Sedef Shipbuilding is currently building Turkey's first amphibious assault ship for the Turkish navy, a vessel that will eventually form the foundation of a Turkish aircraft carrier program. Turkish Aerospace Industries is also spearheading efforts to develop indigenous drones, such as the Anka UAV, for the military after previous efforts to import the technology failed. When it comes to replacement products for aging Turkish equipment, flagship programs include the Altay main battle tank, developed by Turkish defense company Otokar, as well as the T129 attack helicopter produced by Turkish Aerospace Industries in partnership with Anglo-Italian company AgustaWestland. As is the case with the T129 helicopter, Turkish defense companies have sought to strategically partner with foreign firms in the development of numerous weapons programs to compensate for continued deficiencies in their technological know-how.
Turkey has come a long way in the development of an indigenous defense industry, a core part of its ambition to strengthen its military and bolster its regional interests. Since 2002, the rate at which Turkey's defense industry has met Ankara's procurement requirements has risen from 24 to 64 percent and is still climbing. Yet while these numbers are indeed impressive, they are also somewhat misleading. What Turkey labels as indigenous programs are more often than not still heavily linked to foreign partnerships and almost invariably include imported subsystems. So while the continued rise of the Turkish defense industry is impressive at face value, the reality is that progress will remain uneven, and Ankara will not be able to forgo its dependence on critical foreign systems anytime soon.