“[Turkey] should also be able to export the engine with the tank [it is developing] so that it can compete with the West [in the defense industry],” said Serdar Eryılmaz, a professor of international relations at Hasan Kalyoncu University in Gaziantep.
"[The joint development of defense equipment] is one issue that will be discussed within the relationship between Japan and Turkey," Japan's Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said at a press conference last week, following which Japan's Asahi Shimbun reported, based on anonymous sources, that the cooperation being considered by Japan and Turkey involves a joint venture between Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and a Turkish company to manufacture engines for tanks.
Until a year ago or so, it was Germany's MTU, Turkish officials had announced, which was tasked to provide the engine for the Altay tank. Although it was said in a story published last week in the Defense News, a website on defense issues, that talks with the German engine-makes are also ongoing, Turkey may possibly have had difficulties convincing the German company about the export license for the engine to be used in Altay. Or it may also be the case that the German producer may not be all that willing to provide the transfer of technology for the engine, as Turkey plans to develop its own engine for the tank after using a foreign engine for the first batch of tanks to be produced.
In the past few years, Turkey has had difficulties using a German-made engine in some locally produced defense products which it wanted to export to countries such as Azerbaijan, as Germany had opposed the sale, saying the engine cannot be exported to Azerbaijan.“[If you can't export the product], it does not make much sense, in terms of developing the local defense industry, to jointly develop engines,” Kalyoncu told Today's Zaman.
Japan is also picky about the recipient of the defense equipment which it supplies, having three principles related to the export of weapons. After those principles were relaxed in 2011, it became possible for Japan to jointly develop weapons systems with countries other than the US, and the country has already signed such agreements with France and Britain.
Noting that discussions between the two nations will begin once there is confirmation that the plan would not violate Japan's three principles related to the export of weapons, the Japanese daily said: “An important factor for joint development is the creation of a framework that would prevent the use of the equipment for objectives other than what it was initially meant for and the transfer of that equipment to a third nation.”
Under the Altay project, which began in 2008, ASELSAN, a Turkish defense industry giant, will be producing the new-generation fire-control system and the command and control information system of the tank while, with technology transfer from South Korea's Hyundai Rotem, the Turkish Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corporation (MKE) will develop the 120-millimeter gun and ROKETSAN, the modular armor of the tank.
“If Germany wanted to introduce limitations on Turkey's exports regarding the engine, then Turkey may have wished to cooperate with Japan,” Erdoğan Karakuş, a retired three-star general, told Today's Zaman. Noting that the costs of production for Altay would be too high for Turkey if Turkey cannot export the tank, he underlined that the “contribution of the Altay project to the local defense industry would also remain rather limited in such a case.”
As an indication of developing ties between the two countries, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Turkey twice in the past six months. Japan, which is building the Marmaray, a tunnel under the Bosporus Strait with a rail link that connects Asia and Europe, will also build Turkey's second nuclear power plant, a $22 billion project.