ANKARA, Turkey — Negotiations between Turkish and South Korean companies to power Turkey’s first indigenous tank are shifting from plans for co-production in the European country to an off-the-shelf contract, Turkish procurement and industry sources told Defense News.
In October, Turkey and South Korea signed a letter of intent under which two South Korean companies would supply engines and transmission mechanisms for the Altay tank. The deal, penned Oct. 22, came during a meeting between Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and the South Korean minister in charge of the country’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration, Kang Eun-ho.
Turkish armored vehicles manufacturer BMC, which is making the Altay, is negotiating strategic agreements with South Korean manufacturers Doosan and S&T Dynamics for joint work on a power pack for the tank. Under the deals, the Asian businesses would supply the know-how for an engine and transmission mechanism, which makes up the power pack that would be co-produced in Turkey.
But that’s changing.
“Co-production option did not go ahead as planned,” a company source said. “The new understanding is about off-the-shelf acquisition of Korean power pack.”
A procurement official confirmed the off-the-shelf deal but voiced concern about a potential political intervention blocking the deal. “We fear the U.S. administration may pressure South Korea to avoid any tank engine technology transfer to Turkey,” the official said.
Earlier this month, 41 members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken opposing the sale of F-16 fighters to Turkey. The bipartisan letter noted that the U.S. placed sanctions on Turkey under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act over its acquisition of the Russian-made S-400 air defense system. Turkey was also ejected from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and cannot purchase the advanced aircraft.
Under the new Altay deal, the South Korean companies will directly supply the power pack and assist with its integration with the tank, as well as the testing phase that follows.
If all goes well, BMC officials said, the Altays may be powered by Doosan and S&T Dynamics within 18 months.
BMC won the multibillion-dollar Altay contract in November 2018 to produce an initial batch of 250 units, provide life-cycle logistical support, and establish a tank systems technology center and relevant operations. BMC was also charged with designing, developing and producing a tank with an unmanned fire control unit.
The Altay program is broken into two phases: T1 and T2. T1 covers the first 250 units, and T2 involves the advanced version of the tank. Turkey plans to eventually produce 1,000 Altays, to be followed by an unmanned version.
Burak Ege Bekdil is a Turkey correspondent for Defense News. He has written for Hurriyet Daily News, and worked as Ankara bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswires and CNBC-e television. He is also a fellow at the Middle East Forum and regularly writes for the Middle East Quarterly and Gatestone Institute.