Asian Visit: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan inspects the Royal Malay Regiment Guard of Honour on Jan. 10 in Putrajaya, Malaysia. Erdogan visited Malaysia, Japan and Singapore this month to increase defense ties and secure deals. (AFP/Getty Images)
ANKARA — Wary of political problems and licensing restrictions with its traditional western suppliers, Turkey is turning toward Asian markets for new deals, including the development of a tank engine with Japan and the sale of new armored vehicles to Malaysia.
“Defense cooperation will make one of the backbones of the visit. There will be several follow-up meetings and deals in the coming months,” an aide to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said ahead of the premier’s high-profile visit to Japan, Singapore and Malaysia this month.
As part of that official tour, Japan and Turkey agreed Jan. 7 to begin talks on an economic partnership agreement, part of a drive to build closer ties as they step up cooperation on nuclear technology.
Turkey and Japan also signed an agreement to set up a science and technology university in Istanbul, hoping this would facilitate technology transfers and help Turkey build expertise in nuclear energy. The two countries are yet to approve an agreement signed last year for the construction of a $22 billion nuclear plant.
A defense official accompanying Erdogan on his tour said on Jan. 8 that the two countries discussed joint development of a 1,500-horsepower engine and transmission system for the Altay, Turkey’s indigenously developed, next-generation main battle tank.
This deal would involve Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The official said Turkish representatives discussed deals with Fuji Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries to develop other equipment, such as a helicopter engine, a drone, infrared sensors, and a fuel battery system for vessels and submarines.
“The Japanese are very supportive of all kinds of ideas in the field of defense cooperation, despite their pacifistic constitutional restrictions and the fact that they have so far only cooperated with the United States in defense,” the defense official said. “This is partly due to the excellent political and increasingly multidimensional economic relations between the two countries.”
Turkey has long been flirting with Asian manufacturers. The breakthrough came from South Korea in 2001, when Turkey signed a US $1 billion contract for the acquisition of the T-155 self-propelled howitzer.
Six years later, Korea Aerospace Industries won a nearly $500 million Turkish contract for a batch of KT-1 basic trainer aircraft, followed by a few years of silence. But now, the South Korean company is seeking ways to find a slot in TFX, Turkey’s indigenous fighter jet program. If it does, that will automatically reserve the company a seat in TX, a parallel program designed to develop trainer aircraft for the TFX jet.
But the biggest shot came in September, when Turkey announced it would open contract negotiations with China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corp. (CPMIEC) for a program to build Turkey’s first long-range air and anti-missile defense architecture.
The talks have been going on since then, despite growing pressure from Turkey’s NATO allies, especially the United States. CPMIEC has been on a US list of sanctions as part of the Iran, North Korea and Syria Non-Proliferation Act.
During Erdogan’s visit to Japan, the two countries inaugurated the delivery of the TURKSAT 4A satellite, co-produced by Turkish and Japanese engineers in Tokyo. Both the TURKSAT 4A and 4B, which are communications and broadcasting satellites, were produced at the satellite production center of Japan’s Mitsubishi Electric Co.
The TURKSAT 4A will be sent to Kazakhstan for launch Feb. 15 on a Russian Proton rocket.
Erdogan, in remarks carried by Turkey’s official news agency Anadolu, said the satellite program is “a concrete indicator of the joint achievement of both countries in aerospace studies, aviation, science and technology.”
Turkey has other satellite programs — even a plan to build satellite launching systems and a testing center to cater to mushrooming satellite programs. According to a government road map for military and civilian satellites, Turkey plans to orbit 16 satellites by 2020. Space industry experts say the next five years of satellite contracts could amount to $2 billion.
At the last stop of his Asia tour — Malaysia — Erdogan and his counterpart, Najib Razak, pledged to wrap up a free-trade agreement this year.
“There are countless opportunities we can seize,” Anadolu quoted Erdogan as saying Jan. 10.
The defense official in Erdogan’s delegation said further cooperation in defense, most notably in armored vehicles technology, was discussed.
In the largest-ever deal for Turkey’s defense industry, armored vehicle maker FNSS, based here, signed in 2011 a $600 million contract with the Malaysian government for the Pars, an eight-wheel drive vehicle.
FNSS CEO Nail Kurt told Sunday’s Zaman, a Turkish daily newspaper, that deliveries of the Pars have begun, and his company hoped to sign new deals during Erdogan’s visit to Malaysia. ■