ISTANBUL — Increased insurgency-related violence in Turkey and more turmoil in regional conflict zones have led to a surge in competition among Turkish armored vehicle producers.
A United Nations report on human rights in southeast Turkey says about 2,000 people were killed in security operations in the area between July 2015 and December 2016. The report also estimates between 355,000 to 500,000 people are displaced in the area.
"The local and nearby markets are flourishing. … And so are the technological capabilities of Turkish producers," said one London-based Turkey specialist at IDEF'17, the biannual Turkish defense and aerospace exhibition. "This is good and bad news. Good because rivalry sharpens contenders in earning advanced capabilities and reducing costs. And bad because of smaller profit margins."
IDEF hosted a number of Turkish armored vehicles producers who showcased their latest models, luring thousands of visitors.
Nurol Machinery, a four-wheel drive specialist, showcased its Ilgaz II, the advanced version of the Ilgaz. The 8.8-ton Ilgaz II can carry up to nine personnel. Nurol officials said they already signed an export deal with a country they did not name.
Nurol's earnings flourished from a mere $5 million in 2012 to $100 million in 2016, marking a 20-fold increase in four years. The company's signature vehicles, the Ejder Yalcin, has received more than 500 orders. The Ejder Yalcin is a heavy armored combat vehicle with conventional and ballistic protection against mines and improvised explosive devices.
A bigger player, Otokar, showcased 15 different vehicle and gun-tower systems at IDEF'17, including the Altay, an indigenous new-generation Turkish tank. The Altay was showcased for the first time after its prototypes successfully passed acceptance tests earlier this year.
The Turkish government said it would decide this year whether it would sign a serial production agreement for the Altay with Otokar or open this contract to competition. Procurement sources expect competition.
One major potential rival to Otokar if Ankara chose competition would be BMC, another high-profile exhibitor at IDEF'17. BMC showcased its tactical wheeled vehicles, a multi-purpose armored vehicle and its signature vehicle — the Kirpi — a mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle.
BMC officials say they would be prepared to offer a solution for Altay's serial production contract if the government decided to open competition. "We do not know at this stage what direction the program will take," an official said. "We remain confident of our capabilities."
Altay's serial production will involve an initial phase of 250 units, finally reaching 1,000.
Meanwhile, a BMC venture, RBSS, is seeking to finalize a contract with Qatar for the sale of a batch of 1,000 armored vehicles. The Turkey-based RBSS is a partnership between BMC, Germany's Rheinmetall and Malaysia's Etika.
Also at the conference, another major Turkish producer unveiled with its Indonesian partner a medium-weight tank, the Kaplan. Turkey's FNSS and Indonesia's PT Pindad will sell the Kaplan to Turkish and Indonesian armies. They also hope to find export deals, especially in the Middle East, Asia, East Europe and Latin America.
The Kaplan will first qualify after it enters service in the Indonesian Army, and then serial production will kick off.
"The low-cost Kaplan offers an effective solution, particularly in asymmetrical warfare," said Nail Kurt, FNSS' general manager.
The Turkish-Malaysian partnership for the Kaplan first took off at IDEF'15, noted Turkey's chief procurement officer, Ismail Demir. "This will be a successful government-to-government program," he said.
In an earlier contract, FNSS sold scores of its Pars vehicle to Oman under a $500 million contract. Izci, a reconnaissance vehicle by FNSS, is bidding for a Turkish contract.
For the most part, four armored vehicles manufacturers control Turkey's market: FNSS, a Turkish subsidiary of BAE; Otokar; BMC; and Nurol. A fifth producer, Katmerciler, a specialist in anti-riot water cannons and other trucks, recently joined the competition by launching new armored vehicles.
Katmerciler showcased its new models at IDEF'17, including the Khan and the Hizir. The Hizir is Turkey's first hybrid armored vehicle, powered by an electric engine built by military electronics specialist Aselsan, Turkey's biggest defense company.
Katmerciler says it aims to specialize in six-wheel drive and eight-wheel drive light vehicles.