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A Quick Guide To The Turkish Defense Industry

July 28, 2013


Turkish Tulpar IFV-APC

The Otokar Tulpar.

In the 1990s, with the Balkans deteriorating and Saddam’s Iraq being pummeled by a US-led coalition, Turkey’s policymakers laid the ground work for the long-term modernization of their armed forces. Despite numerous hurdles, a handful of local corporations have carried out this plan with remarkable success. It was only in the previous decade, however, that Turkey made serious strides. Thanks to a combination of savvy decision-making, ample partnerships, and foresight, Turkey is now poised to become a major exporter of advanced weapons systems.

What follows is a selection of the Turkish military-industrial complex’s latest victories.

A Genuine IFV

Three months ago the new Tulpar IFV was teased at IDEF 2013, an annual defense exhibition held in Istanbul. Most of its specifications have already been revealed online. The Tulpar, which is not yet being mass-produced, is set to replace the Turkish Army’s large number of M113 and M113-based APCs. Layout is traditional. Designed to be heavily armored, the Tulpar can still be outfitted with modular protection suites. Its turret features a 30mm main gun, a 7.62mm machinegun, and electronic optics. A troop compartment can protect and deliver an entire squad.

The Best-seller

From automotive manufacturer Otokar–who developed the Tulpar and most of Turkey’s armored vehicles–came this widely exported 4×4 armored car. Though it resembles the French Panhard VBL, the Cobra doesn’t have an amphibious propeller attached to its rear although the Cobra II does. The Cobra has proven an export success and is being used in a dozen countries.

Almost as modular as the Humvee, the Cobra can support different kinds of turrets and fit an infantry squad. The Cobra played a visible role in the unfortunate 2008 Georgia-Russia War, where dozens stormed the de facto capital of South Ossetia in the first day of fighting.

Attack Helicopter

The Turkish military, which maintains one of the largest helicopter fleets in the Middle East and Europe, possesses less than 10 specially built T129s. Based on the Italian A129 Mangusta that won a competition among the US, EU, and Russian bids to become Turkey’s first attack helo, the T129 is a modified version tailored after its operator’s requirements.

As a licensed produced variant of AgustaWestland‘s most advanced weapon system, up to 50 T129s (with the option to build more) will be jointly made by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), Aselsan, and another firm. Powered by two Honeywell engines and equipped with weapons pods for missiles + rockets, the T129 is already being groomed for export—it was among the competing models for South Korea’s recent attack helicopter competition.

The Altay

Reflecting design influences from the M1 Abrams and German Leopard 2, the Altay is a third-generation main battle tank (MBT) meant to replace the Army’s hundreds of ageing M60s and Leopard 1s. A boxy hull on a seven-wheeled tracked chassis supports a large angular turret with a 120mm L55 smoothbore gun. Thanks to input from South Korea’s Hyundai Rotem, who developed the K2 Black Panther MBT, the Altay shall feature a world-class electronics package along with ample crew protection for its four-man crew. The main gun also borrowed from a Russian innovation—it fires missiles.

The Turkish army is expected to receive 1,000 Altay’s in the coming years.

Eight by Eight 

Taking their cue from the Swiss Piranha, which became the LAV and subsequently morphed into the Stryker that prowled Iraqi city streets, two firms are now competing to fulfill this new requirement for a versatile wheeled APC. On the one hand, Otokar has the modular ARMA. On the other is FNSSPARS system.

Both are available in either 6×6 or 8×8 formats. Both are capable of being airlifted. Both are amphibious. Both are run by diesel engines in the 500 horsepower range. The marginal differences between the two, however, sets them apart far enough.

 The Corvettes

Beginning 2005, the Turkish Navy along with partner shipyards began an ambitious program to build a cutting-edge fleet suited for the Mediterranean and protecting the Bosporus strait. The vanguard of this initiative are eight Milgem corvettes. Armed with a 76mm gun and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) munitions, the Milgem deploys with a Seahawk helicopter and a crew of a hundred.

Its stealth capabilities aren’t clearly established, though open-source material reveals it was designed as a littoral vessel, but the Turkish navy seems confident enough to have at least one in service, with more forthcoming.

Note (10-22-2013): The Milgem program has been cancelled by the Turkish government.

The Next Wave

Turkey is now in the process of developing its own multirole fighter aircraft that’s expected to fly alongside the much vaunted F-35 Lightning II. There are also persistent rumors of a long-range ballistic missile program that could lead to an ICBM in the near future. Turkey’s reputation as a newly emerging exporter of advanced weapons is beyond doubt. The incredible part is it has no shortage of customers in three continents.