ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s military and procurement authorities have fine-tuned their multibillion-dollar competition for the production of an indigenous battle tank with a view to selecting a winner in mid-2018.
“A timetable has shaped up,” according to a procurement official familiar with the tank program. “The procurement/management side has been synchronized with the military requirement.”
The initial phase of the Altay tank program involves the serial production of a batch of 250 units. Military officials say the program would eventually reach 1,000 units. Industry sources say the final figure could reach billions of dollars.
The procurement official said that the Ankara government expects the three bidders to submit their bids by November.
“We think they should be able to submit their best and final offers (BAFOs) early in 2018,” he said. “We want to conclude the assessment process within a few months and select the winner by mid-2018.”
In July, Turkey’s procurement office, the Undersecretariat for Defence Industries, or SSM, sent requests for proposal to three local armored vehicle manufacturers.
This decision effectively meant the three companies are invited to bid on the program.
The companies that received the RFP from the procurement office are BMC, Otokar and FNSS, all privately owned companies.
In June, SSM had decided to scrap sole-source negotiations with Otokar for the Altay program. Otokar is the developer and builder of prototypes of the Altay, Turkey’s first indigenous, new-generation main battle tank.
Earlier this year, Otokar’s Altay prototypes successfully completed qualification tests including mobility and endurance testing on rough terrain and climatic conditions, firing tests with various scenarios, and survivability testing.
In 2008, Otokar, Turkey’s largest privately owned defense company, had signed a $500 million contract with SSM for the development and production of four prototypes of the Altay.
But in June, the government agency, citing an unsatisfactory offer from Otokar for the serial production of the tank, canceled the contract and decided to go for competition.
Turkey’s decision to open competition for the Altay comes at a time when some industry sources caution that the program faces several technical challenges, including an engine and transmission system for the tank.
“There are still uncertainties about the power package [that comprises mainly of the engine and transmission system],” a senior industry source said. “The local industry is having talks with two German companies on the power package, but under political clouds.”
The procurement official confirmed that the Turkish industry is negotiating with MTU, a German engine maker, and Renk, a producer of transmission systems. “In addition,” he said, “there are parallel talks with potential engine and transmission producers from other countries.” He did not name which countries, or which companies were in talks with the Turkish industry.
Turkey’s bilateral relations with Germany have been badly stained this year after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Germany and Europe of being Nazis and racists.
In August, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said Turkey would never be a member of the European Union as long as the country is governed by Erdogan, further inflaming relations between Ankara and Berlin. His remarks came after Erdogan urged German Turks to boycott Germany’s main parties in a general election this month.
Accession talks between Turkey and the EU have ground to a virtual halt, though Turkey remains a candidate for membership. EU leaders have been increasingly critical of Erdogan’s crackdown on opponents and fear that sweeping new powers Erdogan won in a referendum in April are pushing Turkey away from democratic values.
“German role in the Altay program remains critical, though not indispensable, but increasingly a question mark,” one Turkish diplomat said. “And [the program] remains open to non-German industrial cooperation.”
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.