Professor Ahmet Nuri Yüksel, founder of the aircraft engineering department of Turkey’s prestigious İstanbul Technical University and former dean of the faculty, made those highly critical remarks concerning local UAV projects to the Taraf daily on March 6. He is actively involved in the local production of UAV systems.
According to Prof. Yüksel, a group organized within the Defense Industries Undersecretariat (SSM), the country’s top arms procurement body, as well as within the Ministry of National Defense (MnD), are in fact selling “Dreams, (but not real products),” to the public via the media.
“On the one hand, there are those posing in front of UAVs that are not in fact operational but simply models, while on the other, people continue to die,” he says. He refers to propaganda from Turkish defense officials indicating Ankara has reached a point in which it produces local UAVs as efficient as those of, for example, Israel. However, partly due to the absence of adequate operational UAVs, Turkish security forces have been dying while fighting outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorists. UAVs are used for gathering sensitive intelligence information about the movements of enemies and that information is important in rendering adversaries ineffective.
The state has earmarked around TL 100 million for projects to produce UAVs locally, but a handful of people have been cheating the state by manufacturing UAVs that are not operational, he adds.
There is neither a parliamentary nor governmental oversight of the arms projects purchased or developed locally. An independent mechanism to verify official claims that Ankara has made important advances in the production of critical military technologies, reaching a target of 52 per cent in the domestic manufacture of arms systems, does not exist. This ratio was around 15 per cent in 2004.
The current government has earmarked financial resources since then to boost the country’s poor defense industry base. However, it is still unclear whether the defense industry has acquired the capability in such a short time to manufacture critical arms technologies within this 52 per cent domestic production ratio.
National Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz said the degree to which Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) military equipment requirements are met through domestic production has now reached 52 per cent from about 15 per cent in 2004, according to 2010 figures. However, Müslim Sarı, a deputy from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), stated during a Planning and Budgetary Commission (PBK) discussion of the defense budget on Nov. 4 last year that Turkey still depends on foreign suppliers for critical military technologies. This is a rare criticism to be made by a deputy on the arms procurement process of the country.
Given the huge budget for procurement of national defense items, the poor state of the defense industry is questionable. Turkey needs, among other things, to eliminate middlemen in the arms procurement process, whose roles are problematic since most of the time they operate illegally.
Transparency International UK (TI UK) ranked Turkey’s defense budget transparency as “moderate to low” in its October 2011 report, which assessed the budgets of 93 countries. Both İstanbul-based Bilgi University and TI UK stated that Turkish legislators receive little information on resources allocated for defense.
The new Court of Auditors Law adopted in December 2010, intended to audit defense spending for the first time, has not yet been implemented. It is vital for Turkey to bring its arms acquisition policy under parliamentary oversight to prevent the lucrative defense industry sector from being a burden on the economy.