Could NATO and Building the Military Save Turkey from Crisis?

Vladimir Odintsov
HSR25341Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP), led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has seen a significant loss of voter support over the past three years since the 2018 parliamentary elections, according to a Turkish sociological company. Currently, only 34.1% of Turkish voters would potentially give it their votes if elections were held soon, the Turkish news agency Bianet reported on May 10. Research company experts attribute the decline in electoral support for the JDP, which has been in power since 2002, to the impoverishment of households caused by the mismanagement of the economy by Erdoğan’s government. “Many people have gone out of work, businesses have closed, incomes have gone down. The assistance provided by the government to people who have suffered damage and loss of income because of the pandemic is at the lowest level in the world,” said Ozer Sencar, director of MetroPOLL, the company that conducted the latest survey.

At the same time, because of this deterioration of the social situation, criticism of the constitutional reform initiated by the JDP, which shifted the country from a parliamentary to a presidential system of government, has become increasingly vocal in Turkey. In the Republic of Turkey’s first presidential election by popular vote, Erdoğan was elected head of state in June 2018. At present, the offices of president and prime minister are actually overlapping — the head of state heads the Cabinet of Ministers, thus bearing full responsibility for the miscalculations of power in Turkey.

To escape the impending crisis in the country, the Turkish leader in recent years has placed special emphasis on the development of the military-industrial complex and the production of various types of weapons.

So, Turkey has completed the construction of a new explosives and ammunition plant, the opening ceremony of which was held on April 30 in the presence of President Erdoğan. It is noted that it took only 12 months and 25 million dollars to build this plant, occupying an area of 4,584 sq. m. Only Turkish equipment was installed at the enterprise, no foreign technology was used, and no investments were attracted. Previously, Turkey imported most of the components for the production of bombs, munitions, missiles and warheads. The new company was created as part of the Barutsan enterprise under the defense company MKEK.

Continuing to actively build up the country’s military might, President Erdoğan intends to keep Turkey not only as the second strongest army in NATO to satisfy his “imperial” plans, but also to implement substantial improvements to the country’s navy, believing that it should give Ankara the maximum opportunity to “project” its geopolitical will at the right point on the map. On January 23, President Erdoğan announced that Turkey is one of ten countries in the world that can design, build and maintain its own warships. “We will bolster our naval power in five years with five major projects,” the head of state said during a speech at the launching ceremony of the new frigate Istanbul of the Turkish Navy.

Moreover, Turkey is preparing to build its second aircraft carrier. Recep Erdoğan described the country’s first light aircraft carrier, the Anadolu, as an “amphibious ship,” an all-purpose landing craft. It can carry 12 American F-35 fighters and 12 NHI NH90 attack helicopters, as well as Anka or Bayraktar UAVs. “Anadolu will be able to move up to 500 marines, as well as 46 tanks, or 77 wheeled armored vehicles. It can doubtlessly “project” Turkish influence in, for example, Libya, or in the disputed Greek islands. Or even at the Black Sea. Since on paper it is not an aircraft carrier, but an all-purpose landing ship, the Anadolu can easily pass through the Dardanelles and the Bosporus. And now, there are plans for a full-fledged aircraft carrier as well.

Turkey has localized the production of the German Type 214 submarines developed by Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft (HDW), each with an air-independent propulsion system (AIP) capable of 84 days of continuous operation and a submersible depth of 400 meters. The joint project Type 214TN (Turkish Navy) consists of 80% of components made in Turkey, the remaining 20% being the German propulsion system and fuel cells, which will be delivered from Germany. The first in the series, the Piri Reis, was launched at the Golcuk Shipyard on March 23. The submarine is expected to join the Turkish combat fleet in 2022 and, according to Turkish media, is “designed to increase the power of the Turkish Navy in the surrounding seas” and “will help maintain the balance of power,” in particular, in the Aegean Sea, where Ankara has long-standing territorial disputes with Athens. The Turkish Navy currently has twelve submarines: four Ay class (Type 209/1200), four Preveze class ships (Type 209T/1400) and an equal number of Gür class ships (Type 209T2/1400). Each one equipped with a diesel-electric engine. By 2027, Turkey will be operating six Reis-class AIP submarines.

Turkey has begun production of the new Pars İzci armored personnel carriers, and the first vehicles will enter the army in 2022. The contract for the development and production of armored personnel carriers was signed between the Turkish Presidency of Defense Industries and the FNSS company. In the first phase FNSS will deliver 100 units of armored vehicles for the gendarmerie and the Turkish army, the first pre-production APCs should arrive in 2022, the total duration of the contract planned for 36 months. FNSS said that the Pars İzci APC is a reconnaissance modification and is equipped with a Turkish 450 hp engine produced by TÜMOSAN. It is capable of speeds of up to 100 km/h on the highway and 8 km/h afloat.

Turkey is negotiating with South Korea on the purchase of engines for Altai tanks, which, according to Ismail Demir, head of the Turkish Presidency of Defense Industries (SSB), will solve the existing problems with propulsion systems for the new nationally designed tanks.

The head of SSB announced the creation of Turkey’s own HISAR-O air defense system, which will soon enter service with the Turkish army and will work as a complement to one of the most powerful air defense systems in the world — the Russian S-400.

Turkey is looking for alternatives to boost its airborne firepower after the US suspended its participation in the latest F-35 fighter-bomber program. In this regard, the priority for Ankara was the development of its own fifth-generation combat aircraft, as announced on March 11 by Mustafa Varank, Minister of Industry and Technology of the Republic of Turkey. The proposed Turkish fifth-generation TF-X fighter will cost many times cheaper than the American model – about $100 million per war machine. It will make its maiden flight in 2025 and be put into service in 2029.

Turkey’s active production of combat drones is also well known, as is Ankara’s desire to sell them not only to Ukraine, the Caucasus and Central Asian countries, but also to Poland, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, with which, incidentally, an agreement has been reached to jointly produce unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). For example, two Saudi manufacturers have already begun joint production of Turkish UAVs: Intra Defense Technologies and Advanced Electronics (AEC) will produce the Karayel-SU drone under license from the Turkish defense firm Vestel Savunma.

Recently, Ankara has been actively trying to develop military production and other military equipment, such as the launch of the Turksat 5B satellite by Elon Musk in June this year, clearly hoping that afterwards Turkey will become “even stronger in the region, including in the military sphere.”

Recently, a number of media outlets from Saudi Arabia, Israel and India have noted the rapidly changing strategic landscape in the region, noting in particular the dramatic rapprochement between Turkey and Pakistan. “Defense cooperation is the most dynamic element of bilateral relations,” the Turkish leader Recep Erdoğan pointed out. Islamabad has already purchased four MILGEM project corvettes and 30 T-129 ATAK attack helicopters from its partner; the cost of the entire package of orders exceeds $3 billion. As noted in the Indian edition of The Economic Times, Turkey seeks to establish a joint production of fighter jets at the expense of gaining access to the “guts” of Pakistan’s JF-17 Ankara aircraft, and may eventually secure a grip on the Chinese technology, which is widely used in this model, as well as in the ballistic missile Shahin. “Turkey is expanding its ‘hunt’ for military technology by exploiting Pakistan’s ties with China,” the Indian press worried, even suggesting an alliance with Greece as a retaliatory measure.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Turkey increased its arms exports by 240 percent from 2010 to 2019. Over the past five years, Ankara has exported UAVs, missiles, armored vehicles, artillery and ships to Pakistan, Malaysia, Oman, Qatar and Azerbaijan as major markets for Turkish military products. However, whether or not such active production and sale of military products abroad will allow to reduce the intensity of social problems in the country still remains to be seen.

In addition, we should not forget that the creation of a proprietary fifth-generation TF-X fighter and plans to build a second aircraft carrier are weapons that are traditionally perceived as aimed not at deterring the enemy, but at attacking or preemptively striking the latter. As a result, Turkey’s neighbors have already started pondering: who is Turkey going to war against?