Turkey's Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz. (Agence France-Presse)
ANKARA — The Turkish government plans to invest billions in innovative technologies and projects to bolster the capabilities and independence of local industry.
Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz said in November that his government would promote plans to establish a “qualified” defense industry site in Kazan, near Ankara, to house hundreds of local and foreign defense and aviation companies.
Construction will begin in 2014 and US $6 billion in investment is planned, according to Lokman Erturk, Kazan’s mayor. He said 30,000 personnel would be employed in an area of 3 million square meters.
A procurement official familiar with the matter said the Kazan development is part of a broader goal of boosting industrial innovation to promote self-sufficiency.
“We also think that we may have big export potential if we improved our general technological standards,” he said.
Turkey buys about 15 percent of its defense requirements off the shelf from foreign producers, and local industry provides about 52 percent of its purchases, according to defense officials. The remainder are co-production and joint projects.
In a November interview with Defense News, Turkey’s procurement chief, Murad Bayar, complained of inadequate technological advancement and said future efforts would be designed to boost innovation.
“I cannot say that we have successfully supported [the local industry] with major R&D [research and development] programs. Developed countries allocate 5 to 15 percent of their defense budgets to R&D activity. Today, the Turkish industry can develop ships, tanks and other land vehicles, but we cannot talk about a serious level of system engineering and technology and product development,” Bayar said.
Other efforts to support innovation are also underway. Electronics specialist Aselsan, Turkey’s biggest defense company, plans to finish a plant for that purpose next year.
The $200 million investment in Golbasi, near Ankara, will see a facility that specializes in R&D, electronic warfare, long-range radar systems, intelligence systems, systems design and jammers.
“We hope that plant will work like Turkey’s high-tech laboratory, especially in electronic warfare and radar systems,” an Aselsan official said.
Separately, in July, Turkey approved construction of its first satellite launching center to cater to the country’s mushrooming satellite programs.
The Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM) signed a contract with national missile manufacturer Roketsan to build the Turkish Satellite Launching System (UFS) for pre-conceptual design work. Under the contract, Roketsan will design the UFS to be capable, initially, of launching satellites into low-Earth orbit (500 to 700 kilometers) through a launching center the company will build and the Turkish Air Force will operate.
In a related move, Yilmaz said that in 2014 Turkey will have its own satellite assembly and integration center that would work in line with a satellite test center.
The government is backing up its interest in defense industry innovation with R&D funding, Yilmaz said.
In 2014-2016, the government will directly sponsor 27 defense industry R&D projects while a state scientific research institute, TUBITAK, will finance 45 R&D programs in defense and space.
Meanwhile, an ambitious project for innovation in defense industry nears its launch. In November, construction began on 62,000 square meters of innovation office zone territory (out of a planned total of 950,000 square meters) started at Teknopark Istanbul, a $5 billion high-tech investment in Turkey’s biggest city.
“Teknopark Istanbul will be Turkey’s most innovative zone of excellence for defense and aviation,” said Turgut Senol, Teknopark Istanbul’s general manager.
He said that an aviation repair and maintenance center, as part of the office zone, is almost fully operational. The center hosts THY Teknik, the maintenance unit of Turkey’s national airliner, THY. THY Teknik is a partnership between THY, Pratt & Whitney and My Technic, all of which will cater to both civilian and defense aviation, Senol said.