Being the world’s 14th largest defence exporter, Turkey’s defence industry is facing a world of challenges. From brain drain to the currency crisis, to dependency on foreign suppliers, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has made the defence industry its top most priority.
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Turkey got a defence jolt in mid-1970 when Washington imposed an arms embargo on Ankara. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute describes that Turkey suddenly found itself in a precarious position. “The situation served as a wake-up call for the country and a turning point in the development of national defence industry. The Turkish authorities decided to build up the country’s capabilities with the goal of reducing its dependence on foreign suppliers and meeting the needs of the armed forces locally.”
In 1985, the government established the Undersecretariat for Defence Industries (SSM) to reorganize the sector. Its mission was to lay the groundwork for a modern defence industry and modernize the Turkish Armed Forces. Over the years, the SSM proved successful and enabled the industry to develop steadily.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the turnover of the Turkish defence and aeronautics sector rose from $1.85 billion in 2006 to about $6 billion in 2016; sales tripled in just 10 years. During the same period, the sector’s exports rose from $487 million to $1.67 billion. “However, for three consecutive years – in 2014, 2015 and 2016 – exports didn’t break the $1.6 billion mark, raising concerns about the long-term sustainability of the industry’s rapid growth.
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To counter this, the Turkish government adopted new regulatory measures. It brought several local defence industry bodies under the office of the president, and this includes the SSM and the Turkish Armed Forces Foundation (TSKGV). The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute highlights that the SSB was brought under the president’s office to boost its potential and improve resource allocation and efficiency.
The government has also tasked the diplomatic corps with the mission of marketing Turkish military equipment abroad and finding new markets for its defence exports. Moreover, the government is working towards making the Turkish defence industry 100 per cent independent by 2053. It is also aiming to increase its export capacity to $50 billion and have at least 10 Turkish defence companies among the 100 biggest companies in the world.