Arms shows are a useful gauge of a country’s preoccupations. If the recent IDEAS 2016 held at the Karachi Expo Center from November 22 until 25 had a single and definitive theme it would be the smoldering dalliance between Pakistan and Turkey. As a matter of fact, Turkish companies–all 19 of them–occupied the largest pavilion during the show. China was a second placer at just 14 exhibiting companies.
Claiming a firm military alliance now exists between Ankara and Islamabad is incorrect. Without strong and persistent demand for their wares in the local market Turkish firms have taken the initiative to find news customers everywhere else. It isn’t surprising that Pakistan has emerged as a favored destination today. Like Turkey, its armed forces are a vital institution in national life, not to mention large, highly professional, and with a serious appetite for importing weapons.
Pakistan has been a customer for Turkish arms since the 2000s. The arsenals of both countries do share striking similarities. As a NATO member Turkey has always been a steadfast recipient of weapons from France, Germany and the US. Pakistan, while not a NATO member, maintains an armed forces primarily equipped with French, German, and US weapons. The compatibility extends to either country’s defense industries. It’s why Turkey’s MKEK has a catalog almost indistinguishable from Pakistan Ordnance Factories and the Pakistan Machine Tool Factory. But the past 30 years have also seen Pakistan nurture a growing reliance on a very generous China.
The ninth IDEAS 2016 had its own share of fresh deals between Pakistan and Turkey. On November 23 a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed to launch the sale of 52 Super Mushshak twin-seat trainer’s for the Turkish Air Force. The Super Mushshak is a propeller-driven model manufactured by the state-owned Pakistan Aeronautical Complex Kamra (PACK). A rival plane is made in Turkey by TAI called the Hürkuş, which resembles the Embraer Super Tucano, and it’s unclear why the Super Mushshak was chosen over it.
Since Turkey manufactures everything from armored cars to warships to artillery its future prospects in Pakistan are bright enough. Avionics, thermal optics, radars, and missile technology are also viable endeavors in the South Asian setting.
Beyond trade opportunities Turkish companies are reported to be involved with modernizing Pakistan’s domestic weapons programs, including the J/F-17 multirole fighter and the Al Khalid tank. One sector that Turkey appears to be absent from is small arms production. Pakistan’s army is looking for a new battle rifle and it’s unknown if Turkey’s successful experiment with a local design, the MPT-76, is competing against Western European models vying for a deal-of-the-century tender.