ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish armored vehicle-maker BMC has reached an agreement with two South Korean companies for work on the power pack of the future indigenous Altay tank, a senior official with BMC told Defense News.
The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the company signed deals with Doosan and S&T Dynamics to supply the engine and transmission mechanism for the Altay.
“These [deals] are the result of a strategic understanding between our companies and countries,” the official said.
A senior defense procurement official in Ankara confirmed “there was a breakthrough agreement” between BMC and South Korean defense companies. He did not elaborate on the terms.
The Altay program has faced delays due to a lack of access to significant components such as the engine, transmission and armor.
In 2019, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office included the Altay tank as part of the military’s 2020 inventory in a government document. But the presidential office’s 2021 investment program did not mention the Altay, let alone the tank entering service.
Turkey had hoped to power the Altay with the German MTU engine and RENK transmission, but talks with German manufacturers in recent years failed due to a federal arms embargo on Turkey. Germany is one of a number of European governments that have limited exports to Turkey over its involvement in the Syrian civil war.
In order to bypass German export license restrictions, the South Korean companies will “de-Germanize” some German components in the power pack, sources familiar with the Altay program have said.
South Korea has experienced similar problems with its program for the mass production of the K2 Black Panther tank. Its deployment by the Army faced delays due to problems concerning the engine and transmission.
The first 100 units were built with a Doosan 1,500-horsepower engine and an S&T Dynamics automatic transmission. Under a second contract, some tanks were delivered in late 2016. But after S&T Dynamics’ transmission failed durability tests, South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration announced the second batch would have a “hybrid” power pack consisting of the locally developed engine and the German RENK transmission system.
Under the latest deals, the South Koran companies will supply the power pack and assist with its integration into the Altay. A test phase will follow, and if all goes well, the Altays may be powered by Doosan and S&T Dynamics within 18 months, the BMC official said. BMC expects to ink more definitive versions of the two deals within a couple of months.
The Altay program dates back to the mid-1990s, but it wasn’t until November 2018 that the Turkish government awarded the tank’s multibillion-dollar contract to BMC. In a competition, the firm defeated Otokar, which had already produced four Altay prototypes under a government contract.
The contract involves the production of an initial batch of 250 units, life-cycle logistical support, and the establishment by the contractor of a tank systems technology center and its operation. As part of the contract, BMC will design, develop and produce a tank with an unmanned fire control unit. The contract said the first Altay tank was expected to roll off the assembly line within 18 months. Opposition parties in parliament have slammed the government over delays, but procurement officials claim the 18-month clause will apply after the first unit’s production begins.
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 also plans to eventually produce 1,000 Altays, to be followed by an unmanned version.
The deal has proved politically controversial, particularly after the Erdogan administration leased for free a military-owned tank and turret factory by the Marmara Sea to BMC for a period of 25 years. At the time, BMC’s Turkish partner, Ethem Sancak, was a senior member of the president’s ruling Justice and Development Party. He was also known to be one of Erdogan’s closest confidants.
Burak Ege Bekdil is the Turkey correspondent for Defense News.