ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s Islamist strongman, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan,
secured another election victory June 24 when he won 52.5 percent of the vote in
presidential elections. The election result gives Erdogan, who has been in power
since 2002, mandate to rule until 2023.
Erdogan’s closest presidential rival, social democrat candidate Muharrem Ince,
won only 31 percent of the national vote.
Erdogan is widely known for his ambitions in indigenous defense and aerospace
capabilities in line with his efforts to increase Turkey’s regional and global political
Current indigenous programs include the TF-X fighter jet, the new-generation
battle tank Altay, attack and utility helicopters, several armed and unarmed drones,
unmanned land and naval vehicles, frigates and corvettes, satellites, and numerous
armored vehicle models with strong export potential.
Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, failed to win parliamentary
majority in Turkey’s 600-seat house, but its right-wing partners, the Nationalist
Movement Party, or MHP, won enough to lift the Islamist-nationalist alliance to
345 seats, a comfortable majority in the legislation.
The alliance means Erdogan’s AKP will have to share power with MHP by potentially
giving smaller, nationalist allies a vice presidency and/or some Cabinet seats. MHP
has thus become a de facto coalition partner.
In an April 2017 referendum, Erdogan won new, sweeping powers for what he called
an executive presidential system. The amendments simultaneously made him head
of state, government and the ruling party. The referendum also endorsed minimal,
if any, checks and balances on the president.
Under the new system, the defense procurement agency, the Undersecretariat for
Defence Industries, or SSM, which previously reported to the defense minister,
will now solely report to Erdogan under a new “presidential department,” the
Defence Industry Executive of the Presidency.
Turkey’s Islamist president has passed new laws granting him full authority over defense procurement and control over Turkey’s top defense companies.
By: Burak Ege Bekdil
The head of this new department will be equipped with semi-ministerial powers,
reporting directly to the president. A defense minister in charge of national security
matters will serve in the Cabinet.
After Erdogan is sworn in at a parliamentary ceremony in the weeks ahead, the
parliament will convene to pass laws endorsed in the April 2017 referendum,
including the new administrative structure for defense procurement.
“It will take some time before we administratively restructure the SSM,” a senior
SSM official said. “I guess by autumn we will be fully up and running as usual.”
Government sources speculate that SSM‘s chief, Ismail Demir, will continue on
as chief defense procurement official after the restructuring, although Erdogan
can decide to replace him with another AKP bureaucrat or politician.
“Demir remains the likely candidate,” a source said.
The SSM official said that most major procurement programs will continue with
business as usual after the bureaucratic restructuring.
“Erdogan remains keen in boosting major programs and thus multiplying the
capabilities the local industry has won over the past several years,” the official said.
On the international front, the new procurement bureaucracy will struggle to prevent a U.S. billthat would block Turkey from getting the F-35
fighter jet until the U.S. Defense Department sends Congress a report on how to
strip Turkey from the F-35 program. The language is in the Senate’s version of
the National Defense Authorization Act, which has not yet become law.
Turkey is a member of the Joint Strike Fighter consortium that builds the F-35 and has committed to buy 100 of the stealth fighters, with a follow-on option to buy 16 more.
There is also language that the Senate Appropriations Committee’s State, Foreign
Operations, and Related Programs Subcommittee added to its spending bill that
would block Turkey from getting the F-35 until Turkey agrees to no longer purchase
the Russian-made S-400 air and missile defense system.
The S-400 deal would make Turkey the first NATO member state to deploy the system
on its soil.
Finalizing the S-400 deal will be one of the new administration’s priorities, according
to presidential sources. “This will be Turkey’s sovereign decision,” one source said.
“It is not negotiable [with NATO or the U.S.]”
Meanwhile two state-controlled companies, Aselsan and Roketsan, are in talks with
Franco-Italian group Eurosam for the co-development and co-production of an
indigenous long-range air and anti-missile defense system.
Turkey will also be in a critical round of talks with two British companies, BAE
Systems and Rolls-Royce, on their future role in the TF-X fighter jet program.
Under a January 2017 contract, BAE is the foreign know-how supplier for the
preconceptual design for the Turkish fighter in the making. Rolls-Royce wants
to co-produce an engine that will power the TF-X.