Ambitions: Turkey plans on spending $16 billion for 100 F-35 joint strike fighters. (Senior Airman Christopher Callaway/ / US Air Force)
ANKARA — Turkey, which has been spending around US $4 billion a year on weapons and upgrades, may double that to meet procurement goals for 2023.
For about a decade, the country’s overall defense budgets have remained around $10 billion a year, or 1.25 percent of its $800 billion gross domestic product, said a top aide to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“This is less than the NATO requirements, and much less than what a country like Turkey actually needs,” the aide said. “Turkey, in its geostrategic position, faces multiple conventional and asymmetrical threats, and it would be more convenient if it spent 2 to 2.5 percent on defense.”
NATO leaders have encouraged members to spend at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense, but even the few that do sometimes struggle to meet the mark. By comparison, Russia spends 4.5 percent of its GDP on defense.
“Economic crisis has shrunk defense spending. Only five or six member nations have reached the 2 percent benchmark,” said Timo Koster, who directs defense policy and planning at NATO headquarters.
But Turkey’s economy, now the world’s 17th-largest, has been growing quickly. Annual growth rates in the past decade have sometimes exceeded 5 percent. In 2013, the growth rate stood at 4 percent, a rate expected to hold steady for the next five years.
That would raise Turkey’s national income to $936 billion by the end of 2018. If Turkey by then spent 2 percent of its income on defense, this would mean an annual defense budget of $18.7 billion; if it spent 2.5 percent on defense, this would translate to a $23.4 billion defense budget.
Turkey spends about 40 percent of its defense budget on new equipment and upgrades, so its procurement budget by the end of 2018 would reach nearly $7.5 billion, assuming an annual 4 percent growth rate and that the government decides to reach the NATO benchmark; and nearly $9.5 billion if it decides to go beyond the benchmark to attain 2.5 percent.
“It would be truly realistic if Turkey, even today, spends $20 billion on defense [and $8 billion on procurement],” the government official said. “The government may rethink the present spending level in the near future.”
Defense analysts say a jump in the procurement budget would be no surprise.
“The economy is performing very well. Equally importantly, Prime Minister Erdogan has a big portfolio of ambitious programs to finance. Some of these mostly indigenous programs are his signature projects, and he loves to use them to catch votes,” said one Ankara-based analyst.
Ankara has ambitions to celebrate the republic’s centennial in 2023 with dozens of high-profile armament programs they hope will have been successfully concluded by then.
A list of ongoing and announced programs highlight nearly $70 billion worth of spending until 2023, excluding relatively small programs and others the government may launch from now on.
Among the largest:
■ $16 billion for 100 F-35 joint strike fighters.
■ $10 billion to develop its indigenous fighter, TF-X, with another $20 billion to produce the aircraft.
■ $4.5 billion to upgrade its F-16s.
■ $4 billion for new submarines.
■ $3.5 billion for utility helicopters.
■ $3.5 billion for the long-range air and anti-missile defense system.
■ $3 billion for attack helicopters.
■ $2.5 billion for the indigenous tank Altay.
■ $2.5 billion for corvettes under the MILGEM program.
■ $2.4 billion for the aerial warning and control aircraft.
■ $1.5 billion for the local development of helicopters.
■ $1.5 billion for the A400M heavy-lift aircraft.
■ $1 billion for the landing dock platform ship.
■ $1 billion for indigenous satellites.
■ $1 billion for a satellite-launch center.
■ $1 billion for locally developed frigates.
■ $1 billion for new armored vehicles.
■ $1 billion for electronic warfare systems.
■ $1 billion for drones and electro-optical systems.
■ $750 million for the locally developed Hurkus basic trainer.
■ Unknown billions for a locally developed infantry rifle. ■