Ismail Demir ()
ANKARA — The signature policy of Turkey’s outgoing procurement chief of “aggressively going national as much as possible” may gain pace under his successor, but Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s authority on major decisions likely will also rise, officials, analysts and industry sources agree.
“Although the new procurement czar is not a total stranger to business, it may take more than a year before he has mature enough knowledge about Turkey’s numerous ongoing programs. There is also the fact that this is a political appointment … [of a bureaucrat] with powerful links with Erdogan and some of his ministers. All that means we will see more of Erdogan’s personal touch on decisions than the new man’s,” said one London-based Turkey specialist.
Erdogan’s government appointed Ismail Demir, formerly general manager of THY Teknik, the maintenance subsidiary of Turkey’s national carrier Turkish Airlines, as new head of the Undersecretary for Defense Industries (SSM) on April 12.
Demir, an aviation engineer with post-graduate studies in the US, replaced Murad Bayar, who had been SSM’s chief for 10 years. Bayar, unlike his successor, was a career official with SSM.
Procurement officials say that Bayar’s expertise often gave him a broader role in decision-making although the prime minister always had the last say.
“Although a renowned aviation engineer, it will take time before the new chief gets into the details of complex programs. He may delegate some of his powers to his undersecretaries who are experienced procurement officials, and then have a limited role himself in his dealings with the [defense] minister and the prime minister,” one official said.
Bayar was the architect of several indigenous Turkish programs, including design and development of corvettes, a new generation tank, drones, helicopters, missiles and numerous electronic systems.
“Demir has always been fond of Bayar’s efforts to seek national solutions wherever applicable. I am certain that he won’t change course. On the contrary, he is keen to add to where Bayar left,” said one procurement official whose portfolio included joint programs with THY Teknik.
A military aviation official said that Demir would enhance “the bridge he wanted to build” between civilian and military aviation. “I am sure the TF-X program will take off faster under Demir’s management,” the official said, referring to Turkey’s national fighter jet program.
The government and military leaders had been scheduled to discuss TF-X at a Feb. 25 meeting of the Defense Industry Executive Committee (SSIK), but that meeting was canceled due to pre-election political turmoil in Turkey.
Earlier this year, THY Teknik and military electronics specialist Aselsan, Turkey’s biggest defense firm, signed a cooperation agreement to jointly work on electronic warfare suites, electronic intelligence systems and integration of radars to military aircraft. That was an example of the “bridge” Demir wanted to build, the aviation official said.
The procurement official disagreed with media speculation that too much emphasis on Turkey’s national fighter program may eventually limit Turkey’s partnership in the multi-national Joint Strike Fighter program, which builds the new generation F-35.
“On the contrary, Demir will be pleased to enhance international partnership of this importance, thinking this would be an opportunity for the Turkish industry to earn capabilities it would need in the future,” he said.
Turkey’s first order of two F-35s would be discussed at the first meeting of the SSIK, “with a positive view,” he said.
The procurement official said a meeting had been scheduled for April but this, too, has been put off.
“The committee may meet sometime in May. We are expecting the prime minister’s word for the next meeting,” he said.
SSIK’s members are Erdogan; Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz; Gen. Necdet Ozel, chief of the military General Staff; and Demir.
Two officials from Turkey’s state-controlled defense firms that are among the country’s three largest said that Demir is widely expected to go for a management reshuffling at these companies. Top state-controlled companies include Aselsan; Tusas Turkish Aerospace Industries, designer of the TF-X; military software specialist Havelsan; missile maker Roketsan; and ammunitions producer MKE. ■