September 13, 2007

Turkish Armed Forces long-term military and strategic thinking

Turkish Daily News
Thursday, September 13, 2007


With the increased speculation about the Turkish military's role in politics actual defense policy often goes under-examined. The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) has started a process of modernizing and increasing its flexibility while exploring new roles. It has increased its involvement in joint-exercises with allied nations, added to its arsenal new and up-to-date weaponry and has started to restructure the organization of its forces. These novel steps taken by the TSK have caused a great deal of speculation into what they mean for the future of the Turkish military. Unfortunately, the majority of the coverage of these recent developments has addressed them only from a short-term perspective.

Commentary on TSK dealings, ranging from professionalization of counter-terrorist forces to arms procurement contracts, has been narrowly analyzed as part of contemporary dealings. The recent approval of the French GIAT gun has spawned questions as to whether the TSK is gearing up for a cross border operation, while the new international arms contracts, have sparked concern over the status of arms agreements with the US. This approach ignores larger technological, and organizational, trends that indicate the long-term objectives of an increasingly modern military force.

In the past few weeks greater details have emerged about a new arms agreement between the Undersecretariat for the Defense Industry (SSM), the body responsible for Turkish security procurement, and South Korean defense firms. One deal involved Turkey purchasing Basic Training Aircrafts (BTA), while another concerned the Heukpyo tank, due out in 2012. These deals, combined with past contracts being granted to Brazilian bidders, have led many to question the status of the relationship between the SSM and its US counterparts. Looking at these moves as a step away from the US is a hasty assumption.

The TSK is looking to diversify their defense contractors in an effort to modernize efficiently and economically; and that means multinational procurements. At the same time, this necessitates continued involvement and investment in US products. The two nations are currently involved in a wide range of arms deals and will continue to be, as evidenced by the approval by the US congress for a transaction selling 51 advanced Block II Tactical Harpoon anti-ship missiles to Turkey three weeks ago. Massive arms agreements exist between the two countries, including Turkey agreeing last year to invest billions in the F-35 Join-Strike Fighter Program.

The US has a great interest in keeping NATO's second largest army well equipped, and Turkey has a great interest in maintaining an arms relationship with one of the world's leading producers of innovative military technologies. Opening up arms contracts to the free market is a landmark achievement for the republic's security practices. Interpreting the recent internationalization of arms contracts as a slight to the US is a short-sighted and mischaracterized position, and should instead be viewed as the necessary and positive modernization step it is.

Recent arms agreements do as much to shed light on the future as the do to illuminate the present. A crucial element of the South Korean BTA deal involves, the transportation of production technologies to Turkey to facilitate domestic production. The TSK's devotion to home production of armaments is nothing new, the first major example dates back to 1983 with the F-16 Peace Onyx I program. Domestic production is a widespread phenomenon including the oft seen HK MP5, the larger gun carried by many Turkish police. While it is a German gun it is assembled and produced under the license of the Turkish Machinery and Chemical Industry Institution (MKEK). In February it was announced that Turkey would embark on a program to create a new tank for its armed forces and that several Turkish firms were already involved crafting proposals. More recently Turkish defense officials revealed that the next generation attack helicopters would also be produced domestically.

The recent flare up in home productions is only a part of a long-standing economic vision, taking form because of the new capabilities that are available in the Turkish military industrial sector. Further increases in domestic arms productions should be expected, as more contracts are given to Turkish firms, and an increasing number of foreign contracts require partial Turkish assembly. While the goal of a wholly independent military complex is still a far ways off, recent advances in Turkish industry means a greater number of turkeys weapons will be made by Turks.

A lot has been made of the recent announcement that the TSK would stop using conscripted soldiers to carry out counter-terrorism operations. It was loudly speculated that this move was a direct response to the reemergence of outlawed PKK terrorism. While combating the PKK certainly was a large part of this decision there was a much broader reasoning that has been largely ignored. Thus far in 2007 alone the TSK has held joint exercises with the UK, Romania, Georgia, and naval maneuvers with its co-members in the Black Sea Partnership.

This is an indication of Turkey's growing involvement in multi-national operations. As an intricate part of the global war on terror, Turkey must ensure that its participants in joint operations are specifically qualified for such a role. The Turkish military, and correspondingly much of the civilian culture, is and will continue to be deeply rooted in a system of conscription. However, in the years to come the TSK will increasingly turn to professionalization to cope with the increasing need for specialization, especially in the management of advanced technologies, and joint-operations.

The Turkish military has a long path towards its modernization goals, and its efforts in technology, industry, and organization should be evaluated as a part of this long-term operation.* David Merahn is with the BAC Military Science. He can be contacted at

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