Mith the massive expansion of its arms industry, Turkey is underscoring its claim to be a regional authority. When the AKP won an election for the first time in 2002, no manufacturer from Turkey was in the list of the hundred largest arms companies. In 2006, Aselsan was the first Turkish company to be included in the list of the American trade magazine “Defense News”, and in 2012 the second was Tusas. Another has been added every year since 2017. There are now seven Turkish companies on the list. Only the United States, Great Britain and China have more arms companies.
With the weapons from its production, Turkey is asserting its claims to power beyond its borders. Modern corvettes are cruising in the eastern Mediterranean, and the first frigate of the new Istif class was launched a few weeks ago. Turkish combat drones decided the recent wars in the Caucasus and Libya. The Turkish army is fighting the PKK in northern Iraq and in southeastern Turkey with a broad arsenal of missiles. And for a permanent presence in large parts of Syria, the army needs solid equipment.
Armaments industry boom under Erdogan
The interests of the political leadership around President Erdogan and the armed forces largely coincide. No other government was as responsive to the wishes of the military as the AKP. Erdogan says the volume of Turkish arms projects increased more than tenfold in the AKP era from $ 5.5 billion to $ 60 billion. During that time, Turkish armaments projects rose from 62 to over 700, the number of companies in the industry increased from 56 to 5,000, and the local share of added value grew from 20 percent to over 70 percent.
In the decades in which Turkey was obliged to the founder of the republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the country followed his slogan “Peace at home, peace in the world”. Although Turkey took part in international peace missions, it did not intervene in any other country except for the 1974 invasion of Cyprus. That changed under Erdogan’s AKP. Turkey’s imperial memory awoke and, unlike before, opportunities arose to assert claims to power.
The more the Turkish army gets involved in a conflict, the more weapons it needs. They can then test them right away so that they can be further developed quickly. The tests are indispensable in the daily attacks against the PKK. The better the weapons get, the more Turkey exports of them. The arms industry has now become an important export branch. In addition to the United States, Azerbaijan, Indonesia and Pakistan are major buyers. Turkish armaments are also sold to Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
The largest armaments companies belong to the armed forces
The largest arms manufacturers are state-owned companies. Aselsan, Tusas, Roketsan and Havelsan belong to the Foundation of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSKGV), which was established in 1987. In the 1980s, the Turkish defense industry had made a great leap forward. Before that, Turkey showed neither political interest nor the economic strength for its own arms industry. That changed with the arms embargo of 1974, when Washington sanctioned Turkey for invading Cyprus. Engineering faculties have now been set up at universities to train staff for the future arms industry.
In 1983, after the end of the three-year military junta, Prime Minister Turgut Özal brought the assembly of the American F16 fighter aircraft to Turkey, in 1985 the State Ministry for the Armaments Industry was founded and in 1987 the state armaments holding TSKGV. Retired generals were appointed to head their companies and young engineers were recruited. The army nevertheless preferred imported armaments to its own – because of the quality and the associated commissions.