Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in particular, increasingly appears to have developed a belief that "Turkey can and will produce all its arms systems by itself.”
This policy runs contrary not only to a long time global trend that no single nation can be self-sufficient in meeting its arms requirements, but also to the current relatively poor capabilities of the Turkish defense industry base which has long been neglected due to ill-conceived policies. This policy, which used to be formulated by the military alone most of the time instead of the civilian decision makers, promoted off the shelf arms purchases instead of manufacturing critical technologies domestically. Since 2004, however, the Turkish government has shifted from the direct purchase of arms systems abroad to concentrating on creating the resources to build military technologies inside the country. That has helped boost the Turkish defense industry base to a certain extent, but the $600 million earmarked in the national budget primarily for defense research and development projects (R&D) for 2013 is a pittance when taking into consideration the considerable financial resources required for the domestic production of critical military technologies.
Though it is the right policy that Turkey should strengthen its defense industry base, the emphasis on this “producing everything by itself” policy, carries risks. Among other things, there is a risk that the Turkish military could be weakened by acquiring poorly manufactured local products, and simultaneously, those weapons would not find buyers abroad, further affecting the Turkish economy.
Added to the problem is Turkey's highly controversial policy of preparing a shopping list that includes items such as aircraft carriers that Ankara does not in need since its methods of projecting power do not typically require such costly vessels.
There is neither parliamentary nor government oversight of Turkish arms purchases.
When the Turkish intention of acquiring an aircraft carrier was raised again by senior Turkish generals back in 2007, a website called wow.Turkey.com was critical of the plan, stating that investing in such a giant vessel would not strengthen, but if fact, would weaken Turkey.
“Do we have to acquire an aircraft carrier whose cost could be as much as $100 million only for it to sail on a patrol mission? If Turkey does not have a plan to invade Argentina or the Philippines, or somewhere else far away, the Turkish navy does not need to buy that vessel,” wrote an unnamed naval officer on the site.
Despite mounting criticism, Turkey has already advanced this project, now called a Landing Platform Dock (LPD), with an undeclared intention of extending it to a full aircraft carrier program at a cost of nearly $3 billion or more.
During a meeting on January 3, it was announced that Turkey's top decision-making body for arms procurement projects, the Defense Industry Implementation Committee (SSİK), will continue talks with local bidders in hopes of improving their offers. Local RMK Marine, Desan and Sedef Shipyard are competing for the LPD project.
At the same meeting, decisions were made for the local production of several arms systems. But in reality, the winning companies get technical support from foreign producers for the manufacture of those local systems and they hide this fact from the public. Likewise, the government misleads the public on the real strength of the Turkish defense industry base.
The Turkish defense industry will prove itself when it is able to produce critical military technologies that we currently buy from abroad. Turkish civilian decision-makers should have an army of civilian defense and threat analysts who advise them what to buy according to real threat perceptions, rather than perceptions influenced by the military that turn out to be exaggerated and prompt the purchase of unnecessary arms.
Overall, Turkey needs to design realistic policies while strengthening its defense industry base and should avoid pursuing anachronistic policies such as promoting the notion that it can produce everything all its defense industry needs for itself.