Future of Turkey’s progressing defence industry remains uncertain - analyst

With the future of Ankara’s participation in the F-35 programme in doubt, and the country in the midst of an economic downturn, a series of issues face Turkey’s defence industry, Bulent Aliriza, director and senior associate on the Turkey Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Defense News website.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has made growing the country’s defence industry a long-term goal since early days in power, however by his "self-proclaimed yardstick, the sector is not where he wants it to be,’’ Aliriza stressed.

Under Erdoğan’s direction, around 65 percent of the sector is now indigenous, compared to 20 percent when he came to power in 2003, along with defence exports of over $2 billion last year, he highlighted.

It is a given that Turkey cannot challenge the United States and Russia, however, the Turkish president wants it to break into the second category comprising the Chinese, British, German and French, Aliriza said.

According to the director, Washington’s termination or suspension of involvement in the F-35 programme will reinforce the perception that Turkey cannot continue to rely on the U.S and needs an indigenous defence industry not subject to the whims of Congress.

For Turkey, whose defence industry relies heavily on joint programs with the United States, if it cannot maintain its current cooperation in major projects like the F-35, there will inevitably be a negative impact on the sector, Aliriza said, while highlighting that more than a third of Turkish defence exports in 2018 were to the United States.

Looking beyond the potential effects of the S-400/F-35 crisis, the trajectory of the economy will be the most important the most important variable in determining if Turkey will be able to sustain the major financial commitment to its defence industry, he highlighted.

According to Aliriza, Turkey’s current economic downturn will necessitate a review of defence expenditures along with other costly government programmes.