30.01.2023 Author: Vladimir Platov

Turkey is Developing 21st Century Weapons

Turkey remains a key element in the overall geopolitical architecture of the Middle East and the Mediterranean. On the occasion of the upcoming celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Turkish Republic, the country is demonstrating to the world the very significant capabilities of its national armed forces and its military-industrial complex (MIC).

The Turkish Armed Forces are now rightly considered the strongest in the Middle East and are the second strongest in terms of strength and capabilities at NATO. The Turkish army comprises about 360 thousand troops, which is quite a high figure for a country with a population of more than 80 million people. Meanwhile, the mobilization potential of the Turkish Armed Forces is estimated at 8 million soldiers and the Turkish Army can accommodate more than 700,000 soldiers with first-order reserves. The Turkish ground forces amount to 260 thousand, the navy to 45 thousand and the air force to 50 thousand. The country’s very well-developed and financed military-industrial complex, which ranks 11th among 138 leading armies in the world according to the Global Firepower Rating with a Power Index of 0.2098, favors well-equipped armed forces.

The Turkish authorities’ concern for the national armed forces is reflected in the dynamics of the country’s military spending, which has increased from 6.25 billion liras in 2000 to nearly 124.5 billion liras in 2020.

The success of Turkey’s military-industrial complex is evidenced by the SIPRI rankings, which in 2010 included only one Turkish company, Aselsan A.S., in the “Top 100,” ranking 92nd at the time, while Defense News’ similar ranking for 2019 already includes seven Turkish companies.

While the export volume of Turkish defense products was $248 million 20 years ago, it has already reached a record $4.4 billion by the end of 2022. The main buyer of Turkish military products used to be the United States (nearly 60%). Recently, however, Turkey has expanded its arms exports and focused on unmanned military equipment. Not only for aircraft, but also for the navy. The country is now the fourth-largest manufacturer of combat drones in the world and has recently sold Bayraktar TB2 drones to Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Qatar, Libya and Poland.

A new vertical takeoff and landing drone was recently tested and successfully reached an operational altitude of 8,000 feet. As the management of the Baykar Makina, the company developing the drone, told the media on January 4, the supersonic version of the new Bayraktar drone, Kizilelma (translated from Turkish as “red apple”), is barely visible to radars and can develop hypersonic speeds. According to Turkish developers, it will become “a challenge” to US 5th generation aviation because, unlike the American F-35, this fighter is unmanned and remotely piloted. It will be able to take off and land on warships with a short runway.

A notable feature of Turkish drones that gives them a significant advantage in this military equipment market is that their control system is via a satellite communications channel.

Defense contractor Aselsan A.S. has developed a new-generation Albatros-S unmanned boat that features high maneuverability and the ability to operate in a swarm. The Turkish company ARES Shipyard has developed quite interesting modifications of the high-speed Predator and Dagger ARES -32 interceptors with a large power reserve. These vessels can reach speeds of up to 45 knots (83 km/h), are extremely maneuverable, and have a range of about 2,000 nautical miles. They are designed for naval operations in the coastal zone and have already received orders from countries in the Middle East and Africa.

Turkey’s Defense Industries Agency has contracted private shipyards to build the indigenous MILGEM naval project and expects to increase the number of these Class I frigates to 8 within the next three years. They will be built with 75% indigenous capability.

In light of the shutdown by the US of American air defenses during the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey and Ankara’s loss of confidence in these American weapons, the Turkish leader not only purchased the Russian S-400 air defense system, but also organized the development and construction of his own long-range HISAR-U SIPER air defense system. Its successful test took place in January this year. The SIPER (“Shield”) air defense system was developed by Turkey as an alternative to the Russian S-400 and US Patriot systems. It is expected to enter the Republic’s armed forces in 2023 and become the basis of national air defense by 2026. According to published data, the HISAR-U SIPER system will be capable of intercepting aerial targets at an altitude of more than 30 km with a range of up to 120 km. The HISAR (Turkish for “Fortress”) family of air defense systems already includes the HISAR-A short-range missiles and the HISAR-O medium-range missiles. Ballistic tests of the missiles of these systems began in Turkey in 2013 and 2014, and the main development of these systems is being carried out by major Turkish defense companies: Aselsan A.S. and Roketsan; the project also includes Tuebitak SAGE, which is responsible for developing warheads and targeting systems. According to some experts, Turkey will hardly be able to start exporting HISAR-U SIPER systems before 10–12 years, as Ankara will have to meet the needs of its own armed forces in the first phase. Considering the fact that today only two countries – Russia and the US – are capable of building the full range of air defense systems, from man-portable air defense systems to sub-strategic systems such as the latest Patriot and S-500, and also taking into account the fact that so far only Russian SAM systems are capable of engaging hypersonic targets, Turkey will hardly be able to compete with Moscow and Washington in the market for these products in the coming years.

Turkey’s success in the military field is a clear reflection of its scientific and educational achievements.

Given that nuclear weapons are now becoming a dominant factor in world politics, Middle Eastern countries and Turkey are no longer exceptions in this regard. Therefore, it is not surprising that recently one can read in the Turkish and regional media more and more information and the alleged possibility of Ankara’s possession of nuclear weapons in the near future, that Turkey is taking this path that “guarantees its presence at the forefront of geopolitics. In particular, Israeli political scientist” Yakov Kedmi argues that it is only a matter of time before Ankara possesses a nuclear arsenal.

As reported by Zee News, India, Turkey and Pakistan have long been negotiating over nuclear missile technology. In particular, it was pointed out that the nuclear issue was discussed at a meeting of the joint organization of these states, “High Level Military Dialogue,” in late December 2020.

Vladimir Platov, expert on the Middle East, exclusively for the online journal “New Eastern Outlook”.