2016: Turkey’s defense purchases to reach $8 billion

Turkey will buy around 100 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lightning II aircraft. EPA photo

Turkey will spend up to $8 billion in defense purchases as its exports will reach $2 billion in 2016, four years from now, according to a major estimation by the procurement agency, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM).

The present figures are around half of that.

The expectations in the SSM’s updated 2012-2016 strategic program are realistic given the money Turkey would pay for expensive systems – such as the F-35s or the U-214 submarines from Germany – over the next few years, as well as the rapid increase in its exports mainly to Islamic countries, according to one defense analyst.

Turkey is in talks with four key foreign suppliers on a $4 billion Long Range Air and Missile Defense Systems project.

The country’s mainly exports armored vehicles of many sorts, rockets and other ammunition, as well as military electronics like radios, to more than 10 Islamic countries. It also sells aviation equipment as part of offset deals.

Fighter jet program delayed

Separately, Turkey has delayed a program to develop a domestic fighter aircraft for the Air Force nearly two years, the strategic document has revealed. “A conceptual design … for the fighter aircraft will be completed by the end of 2014,” the SSM’s program said.

The defense minister at the time, Vecdi Gönül, announced on Dec. 14, 2010, that Turkey would build a fighter aircraft, to be constructed together with a friendly country or fully by itself, by the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic in 2023.

Gönül told reporters after a meeting of the Defense Industry Executive Committee that the SSM would start talks with the Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), the country’s main aerospace company, for a “conceptual design” of a fighter aircraft and a jet trainer to be built after the year 2020.

At the time, Gönül said the TAI would have two years for the conceptual design. He said Turkey’s newly designed fighter aircraft “would be a next-generation type, replacing the [U.S.-made] F-4Es and functioning well with the F-16 and the F-35 … This is effectively a decision for the making of Turkey’s first fighter aircraft.”

However, the new strategic document calls for the completion of the conceptual design by 2014. “The original timetable must be wrong. It’s impossible to complete the conceptual design of a new aircraft in two years. The estimate is more reasonable now,” said one senior procurement official.

Turkey will buy around 100 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lightning II aircraft built by a team led by the U.S. firm Lockheed Martin, but Gönül said at the time that they were planning to develop the new fighter with a partner other than the United States.

Turkey previously had South Korea in mind, but one South Korean official in Ankara said South Korea was at a more advanced stage than Turkey, and was currently developing its KF-X model with Indonesia. “We can’t say at this point whether it will be with South Korea or not,” Gönül said.

Turkey closes Syrian border crossing after rebels plunder 30 trucks carrying food, medicine

Burnt trucks are seen on July 20, 2012 at the Syrian border crossing building between Syria and Turkey at Jarablus, which fell into rebel hands on Thursday after security forces pulled out.Photo by Reuters

After Syrian rebels allegedly robbed 30 trucks carrying goods from Turkey into Syria, Turkish officials announced the closure Saturday of a Syrian-Turkish border crossing.

The crossing at Cilvegozu would be shuttered in response to the attack, said Celalettin Lekesiz, governor of the Turkish state of Hatay. He said it was unclear when the crossing would reopen.

Nine trucks were set on fire in the attack. Food and medicine were stolen from other trucks, the drivers of which had been waiting days at the crossing.

Syria’s rebels have been making advances in recent days, taking control of multiple border crossings between Syria and Iraq, Turkey and Jordan.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he is sending an envoy to Syria to assess the situation there, as government forces and rebels fight for control of key cities in the country.

Ban said he will send Undersecretary General for Peacekeeping Operations Herve Ladsous to Syria to assess the situation. Ladsous would be accompanied by the top UN military adviser, General Babacar Gaye, to lead the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria in this critical phase.

“We continue to push for a peaceful solution. And I am in contact with regional and international leaders, and I am working closely with the joint special envoy, Kofi Annan,” Ban told a press conference in Croatia.

His statement comes one day after the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to extend an observers’ mission by 30 days. The team’s mandate was extended with the understanding that the observers would assist a transition in Damascus or pull out if no political solution is found to end the 17-month conflict.

Ban’s statements also come after Russia and China vetoed a resolution to impose further sanctions on the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.


Syria: Rebels Seize Border Crossings with Turkey, Iraq

Syrian rebels took control of two major crossings on the border with Turkey and the main Abu Kamal post on the border with Iraq.

Syrian rebels took control of two major crossings on the border with Turkey and the main Abu Kamal post on the border with Iraq on Thursday, the first time opponents of President Bashar al-Assad have seized posts on the country’s frontiers.

Hakim al-Zamili, head of the security and defence committee in the Iraqi parliament, told a local television station that rebels were in control of the Abu Kamal border crossing, on the Damascus-Baghdad highway and one of the most important trade routes in the Middle East.

A Syrian rebel fighter and a opposition spokesman said fighters seized control of the customs and immigration buildings on the Syrian side of the northern Turkish frontier gate of Bab al-Hawa and activists said the Jarablus crossing also fell into rebel hands.

Rebels have tried to seize Bab al-Hawa, a vital commercial crossing, for 10 days but managed to oust soldiers after heavy fighting on Thursday, the rebel said.

Footage that activists said was filmed at Bab al-Hawa showed rebels climbing onto the roofs of buildings at the crossing and tearing up a poster of Assad.

“The army withdrew,” a rebel fighter who would only be identified as Abu Ali told Reuters on the Turkish side of the border, where he was being treated for wounds. “The crossing is under our control – they withdrew their armoured vehicles.”

Ahmad Zaidan, spokesman for an opposition group called the Higher Council of the Revolution’s Leadership, said rebels were already in charge of large areas around the border crossing.

The reported seizure of Bab al-Hawa, opposite the Turkish Cilvegozu gate in Hatay province, comes after the rebels said they were forced to withdraw earlier on Thursday after they attacked the gate, guarded by some 200 troops, but had to pull back when government helicopters were called in.

The raid was also meant to provide an opportunity for opposition sympathisers among the government soldiers to defect.

The rebels had planned for 80 soldiers to defect but only 14 managed to escape, Zaidan said. Most defections, he said, were pre-planned and sympathetic soldiers would know of an impending rebel attack.

The border crossing was closed after the attack and around 40 Syrian and Saudi trucks lined up on the Turkish side were unable to cross.

While cross-border trade and traffic has been greatly reduced as violence inside Syria has increased, border gates along the 910-km (560-mile) Turkey-Syria border have largely remained open and vehicles have been free to cross.

At Jarablus, 400 km (250 miles) northwest of Damascus, activists said military and intelligence personnel pulled out from the nearby border town of Ain al-Arab, inhabited by members of Syria’s Kurdish minority.

In neighbouring Iraq, Zamili urged the Iraqi government to send extra troops to the border, al-Iraqiya television said.

Iraq said earlier this month it had reinforced security along its 680 km (420 miles) desert border with Syria, making it Iraq’s most heavily guarded frontier.

A local police official at the Sinjar border crossing in northern Iraq said it was still under Syrian government army control: “We have heard no shooting, nothing has changed.”

The border raids came as rebels clashed with troops loyal to Assad in Damascus and a day after a bomb attack on a security meeting in the Syrian capital killed three of the president’s closest allies.

Turkey, which has called on Assad to step down, is giving sanctuary to opposition members and fighters on its soil and is providing shelter to more than 40,000 Syrian refugees fleeing violence at home.


US Analyst: Damascus bombing ‘smells of Mossad’


An image grab from video, released by the Syrian opposition Shaam News Network on July 20, 2012 and dated July 19, 2012, shows an explosion alleged to be in Zabadani, outside Damascus. AFP photo

A former U.S. intelligence analyst said Israeli spy network Mossad could be linked to a fatal bombing that killed top security officials in Damascus on July 18.

An unidentified former analyst said “the entire attack smelled of Mossad,” according to Kasım Cindemir of daily Habertürk. Members of the Syrian opposition reportedly claimed Israel played an important part in the attack, with some saying they received satellite images from Mossad showing the building where Syria’s National Security Council meeting took place.

Free Syrian Army officials had said the attack was not a suicide bombing and they had placed the explosives in the meeting room “days ago.” Louay al-Mokdad of the opposition force reportedly said they had placed 10 kilograms of C-4 explosives in the meeting room beforehand and that they intended to hit the meeting on its originally planned date of July 20. Al-Mokdad said the meeting was brought forward one day and that President Bashar al-Assad did not take part in it as they had anticipated. Syrian Information Minister Umran al-Zuabi blamed foreign intelligence agencies for the bombing, saying “Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel” were the forces behind the attack.

Syria: More Military Officers Desert Assad Regime

A Syrian brigadier-general and 20 other military officers have fled to Turkey, an Ankara official has said.

The latest defections bring the number of Syrian generals sheltering in Turkey to 22. A total of 43,387 Syrian refugees are now registered as living in the country.

The news comes as the Syrian army launches a new offensive against rebel-controlled areas of Damascus.

Rebels have already left the central Midan district after coming under heavy bombardment, opposition activists and rebel sources said.

The state broadcaster reported: “Our brave army forces have completely cleaned the area of the remaining mercenary terrorists.”

Rebel commander Abu Omar insisted that the group’s withdrawal was “tactical”, and said they were still in the city. Reports emerging from the country on Friday suggested that rebels had torched barracks used by Mr Assad’s militia in the Ikhlas district.Â

Fierce fighting has also been reported in several districts in Aleppo, Syria’s second city.

On Thursday, opposition fighters seized control of a number of Syria’s key border crossings after clashes with the army.

Rebels also attacked the main police station in the capital Damascus in another sign that the rebel movement is at its strongest since the 16-month uprising began.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 302 people were killed across the country on Thursday, including 98 soldiers, 139 civilians and 65 rebels. If correct, it would be the deadliest day of fighting since the beginning of the revolt.

Officials in neighbouring Iraq said Syrian rebels were in control of the Syrian side of the main Abu Kamal border checkpoint on the Euphrates River highway, one of the main trade routes across the Middle East.

However the Iraqi army later sealed the border crossing with concrete blast walls to guard against any escalation in fighting.

Television pictures also showed rebels in control of the border crossing of Bab al Hawa into Turkey at one point but it has been reported that they later withdrew.

Opposition activists also managed to seize the Jarablus crossing into Turkey in what appears to be part of a co-ordinated campaign to seize strategic crossing routes.

In Damascus a witness in the central old quarter district of Qanawat said the huge headquarters of the Damascus Province police was black with smoke and abandoned after being torched and looted in rebel attacks.

“Three patrol cars came to the site and were hit by roadside bombs,” said activist Abu Rateb.

“I saw three bodies in one car. Others said dozens of security men and pro-Assad militia lay dead or wounded along Khaled bin al Walid street before ambulances took them away.” The activistâ  s account cannot be independently verified.

There have been reports that Mr Assad has gone to the coastal town of Latakia where he has a presidential palace.

Latakia provides an easier location from which to make an escape if the president reaches the conclusion he has no option but to leave Syria.

There have been further reports that Syria’s first lady, Asma al Assad, has fled to the Russian capital Moscow. Again, these are unsubstantiated.

Meanwhile Russia has backed an unconditional 45-day extension of the UN monitoring mission in Syria, rather than Britain’s idea to add 30 days to their mandate.

“We will support it since we were involved in drawing up (the draft resolution) together with our Pakistani colleagues,” deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov said.

His comments came a day after Russia and China to block possible UN Security Council sanctions against its Middle East ally.

Russia Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said the blocked resolution was “absolutely unrealistic” and called on Western nations to put more pressure on Syrian rebels to stop fighting.


Diplomacy on Syria tilts toward Moscow

The epicenter of world diplomacy related to solving the Syrian crisis has begun to shift toward Moscow, as multiple diplomatic visitors converge on the Kremlin, beginning with U.N.-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan, followed by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The busy schedule of visits can be seen as an extension of last week’s series of meetings between Syrian opposition groups and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Syria peace mediator Annan is expected to land in Moscow today for talks with President Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin said yesterday that Annan would arrive in Moscow today and meet Putin the following day for talks in which “Russia will underscore its support for the peace plan of Kofi Annan.” “The Russian side proceeds from the premise that this plan is the only viable platform for solving internal Syrian problems,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

Annan was also scheduled to meet Lavrov, while U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon travels to China, a country that, along with Russia, has blocked two U.N. Security Council resolutions placing sanctions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

This will be Annan’s second visit to Moscow since he won support from former President Dmitry Medvedev for his initial six-point peace initiative. Lavrov met with the head of the opposition Syrian National Council last week, without any sign of a change in his stance on the possible ways to resolve the 16-month conflict. Russia said last week that it will oppose a new U.N. resolution on Syria that is militarily enforceable.

“History will judge this council,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said July 13, referring to Russia’s veto threat. “Its members must ask themselves whether continuing to allow the al-Assad regime to commit unspeakable violence against its own people is the legacy they want to leave,” she said, after reports of new killings in Tremseh.

Syria, energy, Middle East on the agenda

A day after Putin meets Annan, the Russian president will welcome Erdoğan to discuss the future of Syria, energy issues and the latest developments in the Middle East. Although not on the agenda, the Turkish jet downed on June 22 is also expected to be discussed between the two statesmen, according to diplomatic sources speaking to Hürriyet Daily News yesterday.

According to Turkish officials, Erdoğan is expected to ask for any records about the plane that Moscow has. The U.S. and the U.K. have recently handed over the information they had on the Turkish jet. Russia’s foreign minister said June 30 that Russia possesses “objective observation data” concerning the downing of the Turkish jet, and is prepared to present it.

Thanks to a consultation mechanism established by the foreign ministries of both countries, delegations from Turkey and Russia are expected to meet in the fall within the framework of periodic meetings. During their meeting at the G20 summit in Los Cabos last month, the two leaders agreed to meet privately before the fall meetings. In a phone call on June 27, Putin and Erdoğan discussed the situation in Syria and agreed to meet on July 18 in Moscow. Russia, Syria’s main ally, has firmly resisted any form of outside pressure on al-Assad to step aside.


Turkish president says downing of fighter cannot be ignored

Turkish President Abdullah Gul

Turkish President Abdullah Gül said today it was not possible to ignore the fact that Syria had shot down a Turkish fighter jet and said everything that needed to be done following the incident would be done, Turkish media reported.

“It is not possible to cover over a thing like this, whatever is necessary will be done,” Gul was quoted as saying by state news agency Anatolia. It was not immediately clear where he was speaking.
Gul said it was routine for jets travelling at high speed to cross borders for a short distance. He said an investigation into the incident would look at whether the plane was downed in Turkish airspace, media reported.

Gul also said Ankara had been in telephone contact with Damascus and that a search operation for the plane and missing pilots was still under way.

“Syria shot Turkish plane without warning” Ankara says

The Turkish government has refuted a statement from the Syrian Foreign Ministry that said Damascus acted in self-defense in shooting down a Turkish warplane on June 22, Turkish sources told the Hürriyet Daily News today.

“We have necessary information showing that the Turkish plane was shot at without any warning,” an official source said on condition of anonymity.

“We are 100 percent right and the act of Syrian regime is against all dynamics of international law,” Ömer Çelik, the deputy chairman in charge of foreign policy for the ruling Justi ce and Development Party (AK Parti), said on his Twitter account. “All data about the incident confirms that.”

A more detailed announcement about Turkey’s reaction is expected to be made tomorrow (Sunday) morning by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who has attended all three high-level security meetings and has been engaged in intense diplomacy since the incident took place.

One June 22, a Turkish F-4 Phantom reconnaissance plane which took off from an air base in the eastern province of Malatya, which also hosts the NATO-run missile shield radar, was shot down by Syria’s air defense system near the Syrian city of Latakia, which is close to the Russian naval base at Tartus.

The Syrian government said it shot down the plane in Syrian air space in self-defense before realizing that it was a Turkish plane. The aircraft’s two Turkish pilots are still missing.

Davutoğlu’s telephone diplomacy included the secretary general of the United Nations, the foreign ministers of all P5+1 countries (the United States, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, China and Germany), Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Iran (which also called Ankara to “express concern”), the foreign and security commissioner of the European Union and the secretary general of the Arab League, a diplomatic source told the Daily News.

In another important development, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has asked for appointments from the leaders of the other three main political parties in the Turkish Parliament on Sunday in order to explain the details of the incident and discuss the matter, the Prime Minister’s Office has announced.

This is an unusual move and has caused speculation about a possible parliamentary decision which is a requirement for any foreign military action according to the Turkish Constitution. “We are not considering a military action now,” a source told the Daily News. “But we want to inform the opposition and we want to keep all options open.”

The opposition has taken an unusually calm stance regarding the downed plane. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP),  told reporters that there were “a lot of questions to ask” but that the situation currently had to be dealt with calmly.

Turkish-Syrian relations have been deteriorating since the Bashar al-Assad regime started to crush the Syrian opposition, which has been demanding more rights as a result of the Arab Spring.

Currently there are more than 33,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey, including 12 army officers above the rank of brigadier-general or higher. Also, the Syrian National Council and the Free Syrian Army have their main headquarters in Turkey.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry has recently denied press report saying that Ankara is financially supporting the smuggling of arms from the CIA to Syrian opposition groups.


SSM releases timetable for major projects

A prototype of T-129 Atak helicopters co-developed by Turkey and Italian AgustaWestland is seen during a test flight. First Atak is planned to be delivered by 2013.

Turkey’s Undersecretariat for the Defense Industry has disclosed a new five-year strategic plan, which finalizes completion dates for key projects including Turkish-made tanks, aircraft, satellites, destroyers, and helicopters, in a bid to lift the country’s defense industry into a higher league.

Altay, the Turkish-made tank project, will be complete by the end of 2015, the plan says. The first Turkish destroyer will be delivered in 2016. Atak, an attack helicopter, and Anka, an unmanned aerial vehicle, will be delivered in 2013 and 2014 respectively.

More than 280 projects have been carried out since 2011, according to the new 2012-2016 strategic plan. The total value of the contracts the undersecretariat signed last year was about $27.3 billion.

Top 10 Within Five Years

The plan envisages Turkey’s defense industry entering the top 10 worldwide within five years. The total turnover target for defense and aerospace industry exports for 2016 is $2 billion, out of an overall industry turnover of $8 billion, according to the plan.

Turkey will establish liaison offices in the Middle East, the Far East, the U.S., the Caucasus-Central Asia, and in Europe (EU-NATO). The undersecretariat will encourage collaboration between prime contractors, sub-industries, and small and medium enterprises, with universities and research institutions improving the technological base.

The Turkish government will support the establishment of testing and certification centers that meet international standards, in order to meet non-military and non-public sector demands. A land vehicle test center, a high-speed wind tunnel, an aerial vehicle flight test field, a missile systems test field, a satellite assembly center, and an integration and testing center will be among these facilities, according to the strategic plan.

Arms Projects Timetable

The strategic defense plan has laid out dates for the deadlines to manufacture the first domestically produced prototypes in the local defense industry.

  • A radar observation satellite will be ready by 2016.
  • The third-generation of the main battle tank, Altay, will be manufactured by the end of 2015.
  • The first destroyer will be delivered to the Turkish Navy by the end of 2016. Studies regarding development of a submarine will be completed by 2015.
  • Atak, a national attack helicopter, will be delivered by 2013. An all-purpose helicopter will be delivered by the end of 2016.
  • The mass production of a national infantry rifle starts in July.
  • Hürkuş, a training aircraft designed by TUSAŞ, and Anka, an unmanned aerial vehicle, will be delivered to the Turkish Air Force by the end of 2015 and 2014 respectively. And a jet motor prototype will be ready by 2016.
  • Long-range and medium-range anti-tank rocket systems will be in the inventory of the Turkish army by the end of 2012 and 2013 respectively.
  • Semi Active Laser Guided Missile, CIRIT, will be mass produced and integrated to ATAKs by the end of 2013.
  • Low and medium altitude air defense systems will be designed by the end of 2016.

MoD: Gov’t will not talk to terrorists

Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz (Photo: Cihan)

Turkey will not let an armed organization roam freely in its mountains nor will it talk to terrorists, Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz said on Monday in an interview with Today’s Zaman.

Speaking about the government’s recently announced shift of strategy in fighting terrorism, Yılmaz said, “Men with weapons in their hands will not roam our mountains.”

According to Yılmaz, the terrorist network Kurdistan Communities’ Union (KCK), an umbrella organization that includes the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its affiliated groups, including the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), as Turkish prosecutors claim, voices the demands of the men with guns. He said the government would like to see a democratic organization as the representatives of the people of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish Southeast.

The minister also dismissed claims that a large number of generals currently jailed as suspects in ongoing trials into alleged coup d’état attempts could hamper the fight against terror. “Our military has the ability to carry out any task it is assigned with success,” he said.

He also criticized the General Staff’s “accreditation” policies, which do not grant some newspapers access to its news conferences or facilities. Yılmaz said such a press accreditation classification could never be approved by his ministry. “We don’t think this is proper,” he said. He also noted his belief that the accreditation problem faced by some newspapers will be solved.

The minister in addition noted that as Turkey advances its fight against terrorists, there will be no compromises on fundamental rights and freedoms. However, he said, “As long as the terrorists are in the mountains, the people of the region can’t exercise their fundamental rights and freedoms as they should.”

The minister also offered an assessment of the Uludere incident, where 34 civilians crossing the border with Iraq back into Turkey after a day of trading with merchants on the other side of the border were killed in an airstrike by Turkish fighter jets in late December 2011. “It is an incident that should have never happened. It is the state’s duty to be able to tell a terrorist from a smuggler.”

On BDP’s criticism of army chief

Minister Yılmaz also responded to a question on criticisms directed at Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel by the BDP, after the army chief voiced his opposition to offering education in public schools in the Kurdish language. Yılmaz said the BDP has every right to criticize whoever it deems necessary within the democratic system, adding: “But expressions that go well beyond the boundaries of criticism and turn into outright insults are unacceptable. It is impossible to tolerate these or words or act as if they were never uttered.”

In January, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) started legal action against BDP leader Selahattin Demirtaş for his statements targeting Özel. Demirtaş had said that Özel “is not even a corporal” in his eyes, after the army chief said he was opposed to the use of Kurdish in public schools. “Even if your rank is general, you are a corporal in our [the BDP’s] eyes. Your value is just that. It does not matter for us whether it is a general or a corporal speaking. You have no value in our eyes,” the BDP leader said earlier in January.

Minister Yılmaz also shared his opinion on some of the ongoing trials into past coups d’état in Turkey. He said all of the military interventions of the past had been convicted in the collective conscience of the people. He also offered information on the recent number of applications filed by individuals who want to benefit from a scheme that allows them to pay TL 30,000 to shorten their military service to just 20 days. So far 18,973 applications have been made, earning the Treasury TL 444 million.

The minister gave information on the state of affairs in Turkey’s transition to a professional army. “Currently, 35 percent of the military — made up of NCOs, senior gendarmerie sergeants and senior sergeants in the military — are professional soldiers,” the minister said.

Changes planned in defense industry

The minister also said there were plans to reduce the number of direct purchases of defense industry equipment by the military, responding to criticism that defense companies such as TAI, Aselsan, Havelsan and Roketsan — which are all subsidiaries of the Foundation to Strengthen the Turkish Armed Forces (TSKGV) are not being managed well. “We are proud of the point at which our companies stand today. They need to be taken further; their competitive power needs to be increased. Only if this can be realized can these companies continue their existence. Most tenders are awarded directly, and this definitely undermines the competitive side of these companies. After this, we will minimize direct purchases from these companies and have them compete in tenders as suppliers.”