Turkey is an emerging regional power that under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is determined to play an important role in the international sphere of the present and also of the future. One of Ankara's chess pieces on the geo-strategic chessboard is that it has a huge domestic military industrial sector that fuels and keeps its powerful land, naval, air and security forces operational.
The International Defence Industry Fair of Turkey (IDEF) has been held every two years since 1993 with the aim of showcasing the main innovations and successful products of the Turkish defence industry, and is now in its fifteenth year. IDEF'21 opens on Tuesday, 17 August, to show the world for four days at the Tüyap Exhibition, Convention and Congress Centre in Istanbul the great capabilities that the industry of this important Eurasian country has been able to build up step by step.
In a speech on 30 August 2020, Erdogan stressed that his military procurement policy is "not to buy any product that we can manufacture with our own means". "In 2002 we had a turnover of $1bn and 62 defence projects worth another $5.5bn. In 2019 we are raising our turnover to 11 billion and we are daring to take on 700 projects totalling 60 billion," he said.
With 14 large indoor pavilions and a large outdoor area totalling 120,000 square metres, the Fair is reserved for professionals until it closes its doors on Friday, 20 August. IDEF'21 is sponsored by the Presidency of the Republic, fully supported by the Ministry of National Defence and, as in previous years, organised by the Turkish Armed Forces Foundation (TSKGV). It is a civil law entity created in September 1987 and now chaired by President Erdogan himself, whose purpose is to enhance the contribution of the domestic business community to the nation's defence.
The exhibition is international, but in reality it is the great showcase for the armaments developed by the industry that Erdogan has been promoting since he became Prime Minister in March 2003 and President of the Republic in August 2014. IDEF'21 brings together all the instruments for military use, from ammunition and battle tanks to missile systems of all kinds, including aerial, land and naval drones, warships, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, electronic systems, radars and the whole range of products and services that cover the major needs of an Armed Forces that are the second largest in NATO -after the United States-, well ahead of those of France and Germany.
A total of 1,238 companies are present or represented at IDEF'21, 536 of which are Turkish, representing the vast majority of the national public and private military industrial fabric. On the other hand, the big US defence and aerospace companies - for example, Boeing, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman - did not attend the event in what was once one of Washington's strongest allies in the region. But as Turkey is a major client of US industry, a total of 173 of its companies are present in one way or another at the Istanbul event, according to official figures from the organisation.
Nor are the major European corporations that manufacture weapons systems, such as Airbus, BAE Systems or Rheinmetall, attending. However, 66 companies from Germany, the United Kingdom (58), France (37), Italy (34), Switzerland (25), Ukraine (24), China (20), Russia (11), Israel (9), Japan (8), Austria (7), Sweden (7), India (5) and the United Arab Emirates (5), to name but a few of the countries most represented, have confirmed their presence.
The TSKGV Foundation is a kind of Spanish SEPI, but focused exclusively on defence. A majority shareholder in six major industrial corporations, it has direct stakes in eight other companies and indirect stakes in 60 more. The importance of the public sector is such that "its total turnover represents 44% of the Turkish defence industry as a whole", according to recent figures provided by the Foundation's deputy director general, General Sadik Piyade.
With 17 production centres and as many R&D&I centres, all the companies in which the TSKGV Foundation participates provide employment for some 23,000 people. Its six main companies are Aselsan, dedicated to the design, development, production and integration of electronic and communications systems. Within aerospace is Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), a giant in military aeronautics and unmanned aerial systems, which has also made inroads into spy and communications satellites.
The big player in missiles, rockets, guided munitions, launchers and propulsion systems is Roketsan. Havelsan is focused on the development of simulation systems, as well as command, control, intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance (C4ISR). Two others are Isbir and Aspilsan. The former manufactures alternators, generators, converters, generators and electrical panels for military use, while the latter produces batteries of all types (Ni-Cd, Ni-Mh) and energy storage systems.
One of the important lines of activity is Turkey's strong wheeled armoured vehicle industry. The United Nations Register of Conventional Arms (UNROCA) confirms that Turkey exported a total of 279 8x8 and 6x6 wheeled combat and reconnaissance vehicles in 2020. The recipients were Bahrain, Chile, Hungary, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates. The 2019 figures were 259 units, an increase of 7.72% compared to 2020.
Spain's presence is small but important. It is led by Navantia, which is taking advantage of the exhibition to publicise the possibilities offered by its new F-110 class frigates, the S-80 submarine and the Juan Carlos I class amphibious assault ship (LDH) for countries in the Asian market.
Navantia has had a delegation in Istanbul since 2013, responsible for providing technical assistance and managing the technology transfer contract that the company signed a decade ago with the Turkish shipyard Sedef. Its factory in Tuzla Bay has been building the L-408 amphibious assault ship TCG Anadolu since April 2016, which when it enters service will be the Turkish Navy's largest displacement vessel.
The TCG Anadolu is a ship designed by Navantia based on the Spanish Navy's Juan Carlos I and its two derivatives for the Australian Navy. The public shipyard has supplied the engines, turbines and the integrated platform control system from Spain and works there in cooperation with local companies.
Ten other Spanish SMEs - mostly electronics - are represented at IDEF'21 by Turkish companies, including Antena Systems Solutions from Santander, Baliño (Vigo), Digital Micro Devices (Valencia), Emite (Murcia), Inelmatic Electronics (Valladolid), Monocrom (Barcelona), Premium (Hospitalet de Llobregat), Soraluce (Vergara) and Peter Taboada (Pontevedra), the latter an engineering company dedicated to water desalination and purification.
The Spanish defence minister, Margarita Robles, and the Turkish defence minister, General Hulusi Akar, have yet to agree on a meeting between delegations from both countries after a telephone conversation on 7 July. The two ministers seem to agree on the advisability of establishing a Bilateral Industrial Cooperation Agreement to seek "new opportunities for collaboration, particularly in naval and air systems", according to the Spanish Ministry of Defence. The Turkish Air Force has in service more than 40 Spanish-designed Airbus CN-235 transport aircraft assembled by TAI in Turkey and 9 A400Ms manufactured in Seville by Airbus, the last of which will be delivered in 2022.
The organisers of IDEF'21 hope to match or even surpass the figures of the 2019 edition, which was attended by 76,000 professionals, 151 official delegations from 71 nations and the presence of 15 ministers and 13 chiefs of staff of the Armed Forces of friendly countries. It was originally scheduled for 25-28 May, but the pandemic made it advisable to delay it until mid-August. Measures to protect against COVID-19 include a social distance of one metre, mandatory use of face masks, no physical contact, regular disinfection of common areas and temperature control of visitors at the entrance gates.