Türkiye's defense manufacturers have made record shipments in the first half of the year, with the country's president stressing expectations for continued momentum and a new all-time high by the end of 2023.
"We have achieved a record export value of $2.37 billion in the first six months of this year. Our target in 2023 is $6 billion," Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in a video message to the 16th International Defense Industry Fair (IDEF) 2023.
"I believe that we will achieve our export target by the end of the year, and even exceed this figure."
One of the largest global defense events, IDEF opened on Tuesday and will run through Friday. The fair is exhibiting a range of defense products including land vehicles, weapons, simulators, radars, sonars, naval platform solutions, aviation systems, missiles, logistic vehicles, supply equipment and security systems.
Türkiye's defense industry has undergone a profound transformation over the last two decades, in a breakthrough that has been spurred by a score of Western embargoes. It aimed at reducing external dependency on Western arms through innovative engineering initiatives and domestically developed technologies and ensuring self-sufficiency.
The drive has prompted the development of homegrown air, land and marine platforms, which eventually helped Türkiye seal billions of dollars worth of deals in recent years.
The capabilities of its vehicles, spearheaded by its combat drones, triggered unprecedented demand that saw Türkiye's defense industry exports hit a record of more than $4.4 billion in 2022.
The figure is aimed to be lifted above $10 billion in the near future, said Vice President Cevdet Yılmaz, addressing IDEF's opening ceremony in Istanbul.
The localization drive helped Türkiye lower its foreign dependency in the defense industry from around 80% in the early 2000s to some 20% today.
Erdoğan said Türkiye is today "meticulously" implementing 850 different projects that will leave their mark on the industry. It compares to merely 62 ran back in 2002.
Türkiye attaches "great importance" to the development of its defense industry, "despite many obstacles, secret and open embargoes that we face," he noted.
Yılmaz said Türkiye is located in a geography where conflicts are intense, adding that "past experiences show Türkiye's independence depends on the design and production of defense products."
The Turkish defense industry is a large ecosystem that develops its own products with its worldwide contractors, small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), research institutions, technology and industry clusters, he added.
The vice president said Türkiye had a defense industry budget of approximately $5.5 billion in 2002, compared to the $90 billion it stands at today. He informed that the sector boasts 3,000 companies and more than 80,000 staffers.
Replacing Western technology with indigenously developed weaponry harks back to the origins of Türkiye's domestic arms industry, which Ankara has pushed ever since the U.S.' 1970s arms embargo over its military intervention in the island of Cyprus that was prompted by a Greek Cypriot coup aimed at Greece’s annexation of the island. Türkiye acted as a guarantor power to protect Turkish Cypriots from persecution and violence.
"The Turkish defense industry sector has been writing a success story that has been followed with admiration by the whole world in recent years," Erdoğan said.
"Our industry has proven its worth with its armored vehicles, artillery, rockets, air defense systems, and all kinds of weapons and radar systems tested in conflict zones."
Among Türkiye's most sought-after products are armed drones, driven in part by the renowned TB2 Bayraktar produced by the privately owned firm Baykar.
Erdoğan hailed Türkiye's capabilities in drone technology, saying it is among the world’s top three countries in the field.
Reaping the benefits of Erdoğan's diplomatic efforts, Baykar last week signed an agreement to sell drones to Saudi Arabia in what is said to mark the biggest defense contract in Türkiye's history.
The value of the deal has not been made public. Baykar said the deal included the export of its landmark Akıncı combat drone, the larger sibling of its battle-proven Bayraktar TB2.
"During our visit to the Gulf countries last week, we signed the biggest export contracts in our history for defense industry products," Erdoğan said.
"We believe that new ones will be added to these agreements at IDEF 2023," he noted.
Bayraktar TB2 has made a name for itself globally and demand for the drone soared after it featured in conflicts in Syria, Libya and Azerbaijan. Interest increased further following its use by Ukraine’s military to thwart Russian forces.
Baykar has signed deals to sell TB2 to at least 30 countries to date, including four NATO and two European Union member states. It lastly signed a contract worth $367 million with Kuwait for TB2s last month.
"Türkiye, which is one of the 10 countries that make its own warship, is also an important exporter in this field," Erdoğan said.
In what marked the latest milestone, Türkiye in April commissioned its long-anticipated largest warship, bolstering its naval capabilities and making the country one of the few nations in the world with a domestically built aircraft carrier.
Set to be the country's flagship, the multipurpose amphibious assault ship TCG Anadolu will also be the world’s first vessel with an air wing mainly consisting of unmanned aircraft.
The fleet on the aircraft carrier is expected to consist mostly of Baykar's Bayraktar TB3s, a short-runway-capable version of TB2. The aircraft, the first of its kind boasting the ability to fold its wings, is expected to finish its testing phase by the end of 2023.
Another of Baykar’s landmark platforms, the unmanned fighter jet Kızılelma, will also be capable of taking off from and landing on the TCG Anadolu.
"We have put the TCG Anadolu, which we can call the world's first 'drone ship,' to the service of our navy. We are taking the drone drive, which we started with Akıncı, to a very different dimension with our unmanned combat aircraft Kızılelma," Erdoğan said.
Erdoğan also referred to the country's domestically developed 5th-generation fighter jet. Named KAAN, the aircraft has been developed to replace the F-16s in the Air Forces Command’s fleet and are planned to be phased out starting in the 2030s. KAAN made a runway debut and completed its first taxi test after starting its engines for the first time in mid-March.
"We are carrying out the production processes (of KAAN) step by step," said the president.
Ankara is not just looking to sell products, but aims to establish long-term partnerships and develop joint projects, he noted.
"We are pleased to present our knowledge and experience in the defense industry to the benefit of our friends."
Yılmaz echoed Erdoğan's view and said: "We are not a country that shows jealousy and stinginess like others."