Türkiye is celebrating its centenary encouraged by the profound transformation it has achieved in its defense industry, marked by hundreds of domestically produced weapons systems and a range of homegrown air, land and marine platforms.
In strategic geography where conflicts have been witnessed through the ages, Türkiye has always needed high-level defense products to protect itself. However, due to strained relations with some countries over disagreements, it has been facing some embargoes or difficulties in obtaining these systems.
In 1985, the country established the Defense Industry Development and Support Administration, which later became the Presidency of Defense Industries (SSB), amid arms embargoes related to its peace operation in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).
The years 1985-2004 are considered to be the founding period of the Turkish defense industry when defense companies started with assembly as subcontractors in order to close the gap between trained manpower and technology after infrastructure investments.
The Turkish Armed Forces Foundation (TAFF) was established during this period and Aselsan, Havelsan, TAI, Işbir, Aspi̇lsan and Roketsan, which were established in 1988 under the roof of TAFF, became the driving force of the defense industry.
Especially in the last decade, the country has gained significant ground in the defense field thanks to the increasing number of domestic defense companies.
While the country’s defense imports decreased largely, the country became an exporter of some products, such that four Turkish defense giants – Aselsan, Roketsan, TAI and Asfat – entered the top defense exporters list of the U.S.-based Defense News.
The transformation drive has eventually helped lower Türkiye’s foreign dependency in defense from around 80% in the early 2000s to some 20% today.
The capabilities of its vehicles, spearheaded by combat drones, triggered unprecedented demand that saw Türkiye seal billions of dollars worth of export deals in recent years.
Exports hit a record of nearly $4.5 billion in 2022, and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sees them hitting another all-time high of over $6 billion.
The drone magnate Baykar continues to test its new unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) Bayraktar TB3, a short-runway-capable version of the company’s famed TB2 platform, which has been exported to more than 30 countries.
Baykar also continues to test its unmanned fighter jet, Bayraktar Kızılelma.
The firm has also recently introduced a cruise missile, Kemankes.
The state-run aviation company TAI, which has a wide product range, from helicopters to training planes to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), has showcased its fifth-generation fighter jet Kaan this year.
Kaan is expected to fly with an indigenously produced engine in 2028. The country aims to replace its existing F-16 fleet with new-generation aircraft, including Kaan, by the 2030s.
Turkish defense giants Aselsan and Roketsan focused on an indigenous air defense system which is of critical importance for the safety of the country.
While there are several systems for various altitudes in the test phase, the Siper air defense system with a range of 800 kilometers (500 miles) has come to the forefront.
Turkish small arms producer Sarsılmaz has been manufacturing various types and sizes of weapons for a long time. Its Sar 9 pistol won awards a couple of times in the U.S. market.
The country made also a significant leap to boost its naval capabilities, having commissioned its long-anticipated largest warship in April this year, making it one of the few nations in the world with a domestically built aircraft carrier.
More than Türkiye’s first aircraft carrier, the TCG Anadolu will also be the world’s first vessel with an air wing mainly consisting of unmanned aircraft.
As part of the country’s production of MILGEM class ships, it established many warships for its navy and countries such as Pakistan.
Besides vehicles, the country manufactures sub-systems, strategic parts for defense products and software.
In 2021, Canada blocked exports of a camera component used in Turkish drones, but Turkish defense giant Aselsan managed to produce a similar one in a short period and Turkish UAVs were equipped with this system.
Over the years, embargoes and bans have prompted Turkish defense companies and engineers to replace imported goods with domestic products and systems.
The country has also organized major defense and technology events such as the SAHA Expo, IDEF and Teknofest to showcase its developments and latest products to the world.