ANKARA, Turkey — Much of Turkey’s ups and downs in its procurement relations with other countries have gone in line with its foreign policy goals: markets lost and markets won. One recent example is flourishing business with Qatar, Turkey’s only staunch ally in the Middle East.
Turkey and Qatar have shared common policies over multiple divergences in this very volatile part of the world. They have supported Sunni Islam and championed Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt and the Palestinian Hamas.
Their suspicious ally, the United States, most recently singled Turkey and Qatar as being “too Islamist.” U.S. national security adviser H.R. McMaster on Dec. 13 condemned Qatar and Turkey for taking on a “new role” as the main sponsors and sources of funding for extremist Islamist ideology that targets Western interests.
The Turkish-Qatari alliance has so far proven to be immune to Western criticism or intra-Muslim friction. For instance, Turkey powerfully sided with Qatar in June when Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt severed ties with Qatar, officially accusing Doha of supporting terrorism and destabilizing the Middle East. During the Gulf crisis, Saudi Arabia completely closed its land border with its tiny neighbor, through which much of Qatar’s food supply crossed. Turkey immediately sent aid and supplies to Qatar.
Such strong political convergence has inevitably boosted military and procurement relations between Ankara and Doha. In 2016, Turkey’s first foreign military base in the Middle East opened in Qatar to counter what Turkish and Qatari officials called “the same threats.” The Turkish base houses more than 3,000 people, including ground troops, special operations teams and military trainers. The legal framework for the Turkish base had been built in 2015 when the Muslim allies signed a comprehensive military accord that gave both countries the right to deploy soldiers in each other’s territory.
In parallel efforts, procurement relations also started to prosper. In 2015, military electronics specialist Aselsan, Turkey’s largest defense firm, won a subcontract to outfit planned Turkish assault and patrol boats for the Qatari Coast Guard.
At the beginning of 2017, Turkey’s state-controlled military software company Havelsan built an AgustaWestland AW139 full-flight simulator for the Qatari military. At least 1,000 pilots will be trained annually at the center in Qatar’s al-Udaid military base. Turkey has already provided training for 55 Qatari military helicopter pilots.
Queuing up for bigger programs, a Qatari investment fund acquired a 50 percent stake in BMC, a leading Turkish armored vehicles manufacturer. BMC is one of three bidders in a multibillion-dollar contract for the serial production of an eventual batch of 1,000 indigenous new-generation Turkish main battle tanks. BMC competes with Otokar and FNSS in the contest for the serial production of the Altay.
BMC also is a bidder in a five-way competition to design, develop and produce the power pack (consisting of the engine and the transmission system) for the Altay.
Once proven, BMC aims to export the Altay to Qatar, the Gulf and Middle Eastern regions and to Asian markets, company officials say. In 2015, BMC partnered with Germany’s Rheinmetall and Malaysia’s Etika Strategi to launch a Turkey-based joint venture, RBSS.
“Qatar is a strong political ally,” said a senior Turkish diplomat dealing with the Gulf region. “There is nothing more natural that allies embark on joint procurement programs and partnerships.”
Most recently, in mid-December, Nurol Makina, a four-wheel drive armored vehicles specialist, said it won a contract from Qatar to sell nearly 400 units of its signature vehicle, the Ejder Yalcin. Nurol has sold more than 250 units of the Ejder Yalcin, a heavy armored combat vehicle with conventional and ballistic protection against mines and improvised explosive devices.
Total orders for the Ejder Yalcin had exceeded 500 units before the Qatar deal. Nurol was hoping to sell more than 1,000 Ejder Yalcin in the next two years ― political analysts anticipate deepening conflicts in and around Turkey.
The Ejder Yalcin is used both by the Turkish military and the police special forces, mostly in the country’s southeast where Kurdish militants have been fighting a violent separatist war since 1984.
Also recent, a Turkish shipyard, Ares, delivered to Qatar the first of a batch fast Coast Guard patrol vessels, the 150 Hercules OPV. The ships will be operated by the Qatari Interior Ministry.
The 48-meter-long ship can reach a maximum speed of 30 knots and will be used for patrolling, anti-smuggling, counterterrorism and other operations.
“There are strong prospects of a meaningful increase [in Turkish arms exports] in the next five years, especially when Turkish companies will engage in systems integration, content, subsystems and start producing engines for aerial, naval and land platforms,” said Ozgur Eksi, a senior analyst at the Istanbul-based C4defence.com.
A procurement official said that land and naval platforms will have particularly strong prospects of sales to Qatar. “Manufacturers [of land and naval platforms], especially armored vehicles makers, have very good chances to win new deals, ” he said.
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.