Corruption allegations hinder stronger defense industry base

The Turkish government has long been pursuing a defense industry policy based on self-sufficiency and has launched and carried out many indigenous projects that require the maximum participation of local Turkish industry capabilities.

Boosting the local defense industry base, which relied heavily, for a long period of time, on imports of military technologies, is highly crucial to create added value to the economy. Yet a policy of self-reliance on arms, claiming that Turkey can produce all its military products at home, will bring more burdens to the country’s economy. This is because no nation in today’s world produces all their arms locally and they rely on imports of some parts of military products from abroad.

Turkey, instead, should pursue a policy in the defense industry field that will focus on using human and financial resources in a rational manner for the production of critical military hardware, which is cost-effective but at the same time has export potential.

For instance, the Turkish government’s ambitious goal of producing its own jet fighter by 2023 appears to be merely a prestige project that the country may most likely end up not being able to find export markets for once the fighter is produced. This is mainly because producing fighter jets requires a highly advanced technological base and even a European consortium has difficulty selling its Eurofighter aircraft.

The Turkish Fighter Aircraft (TF-X) is a project developed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he served as prime minister. The government has now been using this ambitious goal of manufacturing a Turkish fighter for the June 7 election campaign as one of the means to appeal to the nationalists and attract their votes.

President Erdogan reaffirmed Turkey’s policy of self-sufficiency in the defense industry in his opening address to the 12th International Defense Industry Fair (IDEF’15) in Istanbul on May 5.

Yet Turkey needs to design a comprehensive and a sustainable defense industry strategy that is export-oriented and adds value to the economy instead of being a burden. To do that, Ankara should privatize, among other things, its around 18 military-owned companies that grab the main share of military projects.

Added to the problem is that there are no oversight mechanisms on military expenditures — offering free rein for arms purchases.

Turkey has lately been ranked among the top 10 countries with the highest amount of military imports. This indicates that Turkey lacks a comprehensive defense industry policy that will effectively reduce its reliance on military technologies from abroad.

Moreover, Turkey’s private sector military companies are not competitive enough to boost the defense industry base. In addition, they have been treated like the backyard of the government. If they conflict with government policies they are deprived of many defense and civilian tenders alike.

Allegations of riggings in military tenders also shadow fair competition in the defense industry field, raising question marks over whether Turkey can ever have a sustainable defense industry base.

In March of last year, Turkey’s opposition deputies submitted motions to the government to answer allegations of rigging in both the national vessel Milgem as well as Landing Platform Dockship (LPD) tenders. The motions came following leaked audio recordings that allegedly revealed then-Prime Minister Erdogan instructing a businessman to engineer the cancelation and reopening of Milgem, while advising him to come up with a competitive price on the LPD.

Erdogan justified his phone conversations with businessman Metin Kalkavan that had taken place in April and September 2013 by saying that this businessman had appealed to him when he was sidelined during the tender. But the recording revealed that Erdogan instructed Kalkavan to apply for the Milgem tender, which he said he did not even officially apply to take part in.

In fact, at the iDEF fair in Istanbul, an agreement was signed yesterday with businessman Kalkavan for his Sedef shipbuilding company to manufacture LPDs in cooperation with Spain.

Tender rigging, nepotism, the lack of oversight mechanisms on arms buying, etc., stand as big obstacles to creating a strong defense industry base.