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Turkey Is Finally Buying Altay Tanks For Its Army

November 14, 2018

Via Otokar.

Last week the Anadolu Agency broke the news the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM), the government office that controls military R&D, signed a contract with vehicle manufacturer BMC for 250 Altay tanks. The Altay is a decades-long effort by Turkish industry to develop a third-generation main battle tank that eclipses the army’s Leopard 2’s and M60 Pattons. Deliveries of the Altay to the Turkish army are scheduled for 2020 but further orders haven’t been announced yet.

The choice of BMC as the main contractor is an interesting one. The Altay used to be a pet project of Otokar, a manufacturer with a renowned military portfolio, whose track record for exports raised the possibility the Altay could be bought by other countries soon.

But for the past few years, the fate of the Altay tank has been in limbo as Turkey’s diplomatic ties with the European Union (EU) grew contentious. Designed to the same standards as NATO tanks such as the Challenger 2 and the Leopard 2, the Altay weights in excess of 50 tons and is armed with a 120mm smoothbore gun that’s paired to an advanced hunter killer fire control system. Although the chassis, hull, turret, and main armament are made in Turkey, the Altay’s engine type nearly derailed the whole program. Unable to import a 1,500 horsepower diesel engine, even as Ankara sought partners abroad for a joint venture, earlier this year the SSM settled on a local solution. It was BMC who got chosen to develop a suitable engine type from scratch for the Altay.

Turkey’s army have been fighting in Syria since 2014 and the Altay, whose initial production will probably span a handful of years, should reflect lessons learned from the battlefield. In the course of multiple engagements against the Islamic State and the Kurdish PKK, the army’s Leopard 2A4’s and M60T’s–the latter a heavily upgraded M60 Patton–have proven vulnerable to handheld anti-tank weapons and laser-guided missiles. The Altay must be equipped to defeat both and at the same time protect Turkish soldiers, a complicated role the army’s current tanks can’t fulfill. Indeed, the army’s tank fleet is among the largest in NATO but the majority are obsolescent US-made M48’s and M60’s.

Based on the most recent figures on Turkey’s armored inventory, the army operates 321 Leopard 2A4’s. These are complemented by 397 Leopard 1A3/A4’s and 750 M60A3 Pattons. Israel helped modernize a small batch of the latter, resulting in 167 M60T’s. The rest of the fleet are 2,850 aging M48A5’s. If the full order of BMC Altay’s are completed by the year 2025 the Turkish army can boast having the most advanced tanks in the Middle East. (Of course, Turkey doesn’t face any threats from Eastern Europe.) This matters because Russian T-90S tanks have earned valuable combat experience in Syria; meanwhile, Iraq imported T-90S tanks too while Iran claims it can manufacture something better–the Karrar.

Whether or not the BMC Altay features add-on armor on its hull and turret, an active protection system to defeat incoming projectiles, and maybe still unspecified countermeasures, all remain undisclosed as of this writing. It’s not too far-fetched to imagine, however, the Turkish army’s armored fleet’s composition by 2030 when it’s divided between “premium” Altay tanks, upgraded Leopard 2’s, and a larger collection of modernized Pattons. Demand from abroad also matters for the Altay and chances are the small Gulf states (Kuwait, Qatar, Oman) will be the most eager to test it.

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