Turkey’s defence industry creates an unprecedented war machine - Bahadır Özgür

(A version of the following article was published on news website Duvar)

Changes in Turkey's military production began in 2010 and accelerated markedly after 2016. Government defence industry monopolies are pouring billions of dollars of public funds into a network of private companies which offer technology, patents and projects.

The Ankara Aerospace Industrial Zone, which was established following Turkey’s 2018 Operation Olive Branch into northern Syrian city of Afrin, is 35 km outside the capital with an initial budget of $ 6 billion. It spans an area of seven square km, and will host 160 companies in the first phase.

This is the largest and most expensive public endeavour after the artificial waterway project Kanal Istanbul, championed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The focus on military production is not just to enrich sycophants; it also leads to the creation of a war machine under Turkish capitalism.

Military industry is one of three main pillars shaping the state in recent years, together with infrastructure construction and energy projects. Unlike the latter two, Turkey’s military industry has better structure, from small businesses to industry giants, thanks to a transfer of technology, patents and capital led by public defence monopolies.

There were 62 defence projects in Turkey in 2002, when Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) took power. In 2018, this number rose to 667. Official data for 2019 and 2020 isn’t available yet, but there are some 150 projects that started recently.

The contract revenue of defence projects increased more than 10 times under the AKP, from $ 5.4 billion in 2002 to $ 60 billion in 2018. Together with incoming projects, the current estimates stand at around $ 80 billion.

Annual return of the companies has grown from $ 1 billion to over $ 10 billion in 16 years. Another indicator is export: The $ 248 million export revenue in 2002 exceeded $ 3 billion as of 2018.

Number of defence companies has also increased over the years. In 2002, 56 companies were producing directly for the industry. Currently, there are 1,500 companies. While there were 71 large companies in 2012, the number has increased after 2016, reaching 119 in 2017, 540 in 2018, and 600 in 2019. Compared to 2017, the increase in the number of small businesses is 280 percent and the increase in the number of large companies is 242 percent.

Two-thirds of electronics and technology-oriented companies, most of which are small businesses, commenced their operations after 2010 and mainly after 2016. There are thousands of private companies, large and small, somehow connected to the defence industry network, that work under huge government incentives that have remained in place despite the economic crisis in the country.

These companies produce all kinds of armoured vehicles used by the Turkish army except tanks, followed by battleships carrying artillery systems. Thanks to domestic operations and operations in Libya, Syria and northern Iraq, production has increased incomparably since 2016. Two private companies, BMC and FNSS, entered the ranks of the biggest arms companies for the first time as Turkish companies that are not public monopolies. BMC in particular owes its success to the civil wars in Libya and Syria.

Based on fire superiority, Turkey has the 13th biggest army in the world. If we put aside Pakistan and Egypt within the top 15, all the remaining countries are global economic powers. This aspect of the issue is of course related to regional policies and changes therein.

On the other hand, there are also new trends in the relations between capital and defence industries. Cooperation with private companies in the defence industry, where large amounts of public resources are allocated and infrastructure investments are made, is also a form of privatization. The flexible structure of the Turkish industry, 98 percent of which relies on small businesses, is easily adapted to the defence industry through state planning.

However, military production is not a natural cycle of needs, demand is ultimately created by conflict. It is ultimately the policies of the state that will determine how this accelerating change will take shape.